My father was obsessed with collecting and making furniture. Very often I would see carpenters working endlessly on a sofa set, a cupboard or some other heavy and extremely ugly furniture. They were made to work in an open shed that faced the front garden. My father took great pride in being a slave driver. The carpenters had to work relentlessly and must have been poorly paid, I am sure.
One October a carpenter who had been working on restoring a bed that had been brought down from Mussorie walked up to my mother and said that he had enough and he was leaving that evening even if he did not get paid and the work was incomplete. My mother’s first thought was that my father was the reason he wanted to quit.It was not unusual. It was well known that no one could work for my father for very long. His temper was famous. He was well known all over Lucknow for his rage and people were terrified of him.
On being questioned he said that he was very afraid to work in our house because of the Baba who lived in the compound. He claimed that every evening he would see an old man in long white robes walking in the orchard. The carpenter said that he looked life a fakir. This fakir appeared to do nothing in particular but the carpenter was very intimidated by the way the he would look at him. This fakir never spoke and behaved as if people around him did not exist.
My mother who was used to the strangest reasons for staff leaving the job laughed this one off and told the carpenter that she would speak to ‘saheb’ to increase his pay, if that is why he wanted to leave. The carpenter refused and insisted that he was very afraid that the Baba would cast a spell on him and he felt that even another day in the house would doom him.
Naturally it was of no use telling him that there was no Baba. My mother suspected that he might have been on some kind of drug and the Baba was a hallucination. To convince the carpenter that there was no Baba my mother called the gardener and told him to talk to the carpenter.
“But Memsahib, there is a Baba in the orchard. He is a very nice Baba and I do puja to him every day. He is very kind and his blessings are with me always”.
The carpenter never came back and my mother’s interrogation of the gardener resulted in nothing but a repeated insistence of the existence of the Baba.
This was the beginning of a series of very strange events that my mother experienced first hand.
My mother had given Badi Bi the cook a week long holiday. A few days later my father announced that he was calling his politician friends over for lunch and he expected a good North Indian spread. Imagine trying to feed and please pot bellied self obsessed old men! My mother could make the most wonderful cakes and bakes but she struggled to make Indian food those days. Now she was in a real fix. It was no use reminding my father that Badi Bi was on leave and preparing the kind of food he was expecting was impossible. He simply did not care. It had to be done. This was the order he gave in the morning and the spread had to be ready by noon.
My mother despaired and wished that Badi Bi would somehow come back. A hopeless wish for Badi Bi was several hours away from Lucknow.It was only the third day of her leave. I cannot imagine what my mother must have gone through. My father’s temper spared no one. Not even her.
At ten that morning the door bell rang and my mother opened the door to a breathless Badi Bi. Very agitated she puffed and panted as she asked my mother if everything was all right. The moment she was told Memsahib wanted her back immediately, she came rushing. Why had Memsahib sent for her? My mother was very surprised and told her about the lunch. “But Badi Bi, how did you know I needed you, I just wished that you were here, I did not send for you”, she said.
“But Memsahib, a fakir came to my house and told me to go back immediately because you needed me and you had sent him to call me. He told me that it was very urgent and I must leave right away.” she said.
My mother had no explanation for what happened. My father got his spread and was well pleased and none the wiser.
The mysterious fakir became a fairy godmother as my mother found out fulfilling even the most fleeting wish she had.