Lessons from my flower seller’s daughter-in-law

When the bell rang at 6:15 am on Monday morning, I sighed. It was my flower seller again. At least her daughter-in-law. She has been ringing the bell at that ungodly hour for the last 3 days with one excuse or the other – which flower do you want, when am I going to get paid, you forgot to keep the puja plate for the flowers. I desperately wished for her mother-in-law to come back from her vacation soon. She never bothered me about such details, and accepted money whenever I paid, without even checking the account book I maintain.

As I held my temper and opened the door, she stood in front of me with the usual jasmine flowers. She dimpled and asked, “Do you want a couple of lotuses also for your Krishna?”

The surest way to my heart is to talk about Krishna, and here she was offering lotuses. Ignoring the possibility of my kids missing the bus and going without their hot lunch boxes, I smiled and extended my hands greedily.

I showed her my new Krishna idol I had purchased just the week ago from Guruvayur, and then asked her if she sells in that temple town. (Her husband buys flowers in bulk from Coimbatore and sells to nearly most of the well-known temples in and around Kochi). She said she would love to, but she does not have the time.

I asked her how she could not have time when she finishes her door-to-door selling by 9 AM. Her schedule for the rest of the day shocked me into sitting down on the doorstep. She wakes up at 4 AM, starts her door-to-door selling from 5 am, wraps it up by 9, then boards the inter-city train to Coimbatore at 10 AM. Reaches there by 2 PM or so, then starts buying up flowers, loads them into an auto, and reaches the station by 6 PM or so.  Boards a return train to Kochi to let herself into her home close to midnight.

Why do you work so hard, I asked. What about your children? Don’t they help out? Her first daughter is doing her final year (Bachelor of Science) and wants to go on and do her B. Ed. and get a lecturer job in a good college. Her second daughter is doing her second year Engineering, and her youngest (a son) is doing a Diploma in Engineering. “I do not want them to work the way we do. I am doing all this for them.”

By now my second daughter was reminding me about lunch boxes and I hastily thanked her for the flowers. She smiled back and went her way.

I have not stopped thinking about my flower-seller’s daughter-in-law since then. Sincerity, hard work, love for her children – these were the easier lessons she could teach me. But her attitude (no expectations of anything in return from them) and her sense of duty and responsibility?

It put to shame my daily grumblings. It exposed my ignorance of a “real day’s work” in the real world. It touched me in a way no status update, tweet, or email from my friends or family could.  It taught me that life’s real lessons will hit me when I least expect it. I wonder how many of these real lessons have passed me by as I huff and puff my way through a day’s work in my world-class office inside an IT park in urban India?

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