I can’t think of anything entertaining to write about. Some bad news: the moonsoon has failed again in the region around Chennai, though farmers in southern parts of the state have had a good harvest. And I read today that in a number of places along the coast, the (already depleted) groundwater has become saline after the tsunami. So, another year of water problems.

A couple of days ago Mary showed me two colourful plastic dishes, a steel spoon and two steel tumblers. Some private donor had driven down the road handing them out to everyone – part of a tsunami relief effort. She said that there was so much to be had – rice, dal, tamarind, clothes – if only she could go out and get it. I felt that she was silently reproaching me because she had to work instead of going foraging. I said, "But you haven't lost anything. That aid isn’t meant for you." For the rest of the day she was silent, but clearly not happy. The next morning, she brought me a pawnbroker’s receipt – she had saved to buy a couple of small bits of gold, which she had planned to keep as a nest egg. But after the tsunami, when her son lost most of his possessions, she had pawned the gold to buy new school uniforms and such for her grandchildren. She said, "Even though I haven't lost anything, my son has. And I had to help them. So now my gold is gone." Well, I felt guilty, of course -- it's very easy for me -- and we're going to get her gold back for her. But it raises the question, where does one's responsibility end? For Mary and many others, there is no dividing line between her and her grown-up, earning son. We should be as ready to help him, though we have no direct connection with him, as to help her. If he needs some electrical work done, we should lend her (interest-free, payable in very easy monthly installments) the money to give to him. Which would be okay, perhaps, if we were a company, or a bank, but as two people in a household we feel that there should be limits. And why is the flow only in one direction? Shouldn't the son repay his mother out of his salary? But tell us that it's for children’s school fees, etc., and we melt.

Just now Mary came in once again with donation stories: The maid next door, Kala, dislikes Mary. Why? Because Mary was brought into our house by our late cook, Shanti. Shanti's daughter, Raji, had a philandering husband who ditched her and took up with Kala. So,obviously Kala must hate Mary, right? Anyway, there have been several private groups coming around to offer post-tsunami aid, and in each case Mary has tried to get some for her son, while Kala has told the donors that Mary doesn’t qualify. Last week some foreign group came and said, We'll build houses for you, and you pay us a small monthly fee. Mary gave her son's name, and agreed to pay the fee out of her salary. Kala removed it, then put in thirty names of her own, including all her relatives. Etc. This kind of story makes me so tired. Where is the right and where the wrong in it? Who is telling the truth? And it's all in a language which I understand imperfectly.

So that’s why I haven’t written anything for a couple of days.

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