Sunanda Bai: The real inspiration in my life

The Covid-19 lockdown has taught us who the most crucial citizens are—many of them are not on Facebook or Instagram, yet deserve as much fandom as Katrina Kaif or Salman Khan

Updated: Jul 7, 2020 10:51:50 AM UTC

I was a typical fan-boy. Cricketers and film stars were my big inspirations. But something has happened in the last three months. Something irreversible. The lockdown has unlocked my eyes.

Who are the real inspirations in our lives? Who are the ones we really need to follow? Sadly, almost none of them have Facebook or Instagram accounts. Yes, there are the doctors, medical workers and care givers who have risen to the top of our admiration list. But for me, right up there is my Sunanda Bai.

When you read both my observations below (one was made on May 5, in the midst of the lockdown, and the other on July 1) you will realise why for me she is far, far bigger than Virat Kohli, Katrina Kaif or Salman Khan.

May 5, 2020
It is Tuesday and so I remember...

The apartment I live in is my own. Since the age of 20, I have always earned a decent amount of money, and have been quite smug that I am ‘doing well’. There was no doubting the fact it felt good to be among the privileged.

My house-help Sunanda Bai supports her two grown-up kids who are unemployed, her husband who is a drunk and is unemployed, and her handicapped brother, who lives with her. Each morning, she enters my house with a smile that toothpaste ads would die for. She vigorously scrubs my dishes, giving me a running commentary of the latest neighbourhood gossip, whether I’m listening or not. She cooks my food, sweeps and mops my floor while humming an irritating tune, and then skips out. She repeats this in five or six houses.

Every Tuesday, she fasts. During ‘navratras’, she fasts all nine days, but continues to work. She lives in the Worli-Koliwada chawl, and in the eyes of the world, is ‘not doing so well’.

Since 42 days, I have struggled to do the dishes. I sweep and mop my floor once in 3 days, and sweat and pant profusely, having to sleep extra that night to recover. I cook just once a day and it takes me over two hours to make one simple dish. At times, I’m too exhausted to clean the mess after that.

I find it so difficult to do these most basic tasks to support myself, and yet I have believed I am ‘doing well’? I’ve been fooling myself.

I have always admired Sunanda Bai as a woman who is truly liberated and emancipated—even though she has never posted a video on how to wash hands, or do yoga, or about how much she loves cats.

July 1, 2020


Never in my life has the 1st of any month meant so much to me.

I used to be excited about the 1st of January, New Year’s Day. As a kid, I would be quite upbeat about the 1st of March, the start of my birthday month.

But this 1st day of July is historic. Sunanda Bai is back. Our all-powerful Society Management Committee has decreed that house help may be back on a regular basis from today. It seems as though I will celebrate the 1st of July every year from here on.

This event has far reaching ramifications for me. Even as I write this, I am saying goodbye to good old sandwich bread that dominated my meals for the past 3 months. Soft, fresh rotis are magically manufactured again in my kitchen.

The thin layer of dust that was my friendly companion on every piece of furniture will also make an exit from today. And yes, the happy shine on my kitchen utensils make a grand return.

Above all, I will be hearing Sunanda Bai’s chirpy voice tell me about all the going-ons in the neighbourhood, whether I am listening or not. Three months of lockdown has not dampened her verve.

Clearly, we now know who the most crucial citizens of our country are. And I hope we never forget.

The author is a writer and a creative director in advertising

The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.

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