Sunday, December 16, 2012


Artiben is mine and MAM's cook. A few years ago, Artiben's husband Prabhatbhai was in MAM's house doing some handiwork. He overheard Madhu and Meghna discussing how they needed a cook. Prabhatbhai said his wife Artiben was available, though she was young and had no experience. MAM gave her a shot; it was one of the best decisions they ever made.

Under the tutelage of Meghna and Mala Aunty (Meghna's mom), Artiben honed her craft. At the beginning she was raw talent, burning things and putting too much salt or oil. But soon she developed the fundamentals, then started making signature dishes. By the time she started cooking for Nimesh and I, she was making a wide range of nashtos, many excellent shaaks, and a couple very good daals with her special touch. But her most unmistakable ingredient is love.

Artiben has a very kind and caring nature. She quickly became close to all of us, especially Meghna who considers her a sister. Artiben cooks for the group of random strangers that come to MAM's for our weekly meditation gathering. Most in her position would raise issue with cooking for non-family members, at least demanding more pay for the extra work. But Artiben flipped the script. Moved by the concept of people coming together in the spirit of inner development, Artiben takes a vow of silence once a week, and quietly pours extra love into Wednesday meals. It's her way of joining the circle, and every week we take a moment to thank her for her contribution.

While Artiben has meant a lot to us, she has meanwhile transformed herself and her family's entire trajectory. After starting to work, she gained not just skills but tremendous confidence. Her husband was an alcoholic who sometimes wouldn't provide for the family. With her own income, she took over the family finances and established stability. She was driven to do whatever it took to get her two sons Aakash and Ama the best education to provide them the best future. As she saved earnings, she began upgrading her home. A few years ago, it was no more than an alleyway between two other houses in her slum community. Her first investment was a waterproof roof. Then she tiled the entire floor area. Then she added a cooking platform, and then a cooking gas and stove (a really big deal in her community). Most recently, she bought a locking chest for household storage. A house literally built with her hard work strength and perseverance. Even Prabhatbhai has been positively effected by Artiben's example. He's come out of his drinking issues and even joined for Wednesday meditation a few times.

Last night Artiben invited me, MAM, Reva, Mala Aunty, and Meghna's brother Chinmay over for dinner. Artiben had planned it for a week, and had spent the whole day preparing the meal and her home. We entered the home greeted by burning incense and welcoming smiling faces, and sat on a carefully scrubbed floor. Aartiben cooked all special dishes: puri, batetu shaak, chole, pulao, and khir with vermicelli. There was no question she was going to go all out for us, but for a family of such modest means, it was beyond a generous offering. As is customary, Artiben and family did not eat until after we left. So we all ate, chatted, and watched Reva play with her best friend Aakash. We commented on how amazing the home looked, and Maddog and I marveled at Aartiben's kitchen which was organized so well to maximize the little space she had.

It was a real joy to spend this evening with Artiben and her family. She is such an inspiration to me, and I'm so proud of her. It is a blessing to be a part of someone's life, even in a small way, who is succeeding despite the odds. I'm especially grateful that she has brought a positive spirit into our households. Often in India there is tension between residents and their domestic help. Underlying the tension is class divide and lack of mutual respect. Thanks completely to Madhu and especially Meghna, we have been able to shatter those barriers with Artiben. We have complete trust in her, and she in us. Beyond trust and respect, there is genuine caring and love, and a recognition of opportunities for mutual learning. She is truly a family member, and serving her is as important as her service for us.

Thank you Artiben, for being a daily inspiration to us.

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