Dad-at-work: Murugan with daughter Sanjana
There’s a fruitseller who sets up his cart on the road in front of my apartment building. Murugan, for that is his name, is always busy. If he is not working, he is a hands-on dad to his two children–Santosh and Sanjana.
Murugan, you see, does with ease, something that most of us struggle to do–manage work and his children. And he performs his childcare duties, alongside work. When his wife Lakshmi goes for her 10 am to 2 pm shift as a domestic help at a nearby house, she leaves their little girl with him. Sanjana is 14 months old and naturally, requires a lot of care. So I often see the toddler being rocked in her father’s arms (as he attends to his customers), or fast asleep and carefully wrapped up on a plastic sheet spread on the pavement beside Murugan’s cart. “In the afternoons, when she has finished her work Lakshmi comes and takes Sanjana home,” Murugan tells me.
The fruitseller and his wife are not rich. They have loans to pay off and cannot afford luxuries for their children. So Sanjana has no toys, instead her dad gives her an empty fruit carton as a plaything and she crawls around with it happily. Her brother, Santosh, is in class 1, at a nearby school. “I could not afford to put him in school till now,” confesses Murugan. The boy is now seven years old.
In the summer months, I have often seen Santosh spend the day with his father. And when he feels sleepy, he too naps on ‘their’ little patch of pavement beside the fruit cart. In the evenings, the boy gets to ride home on the cart. I have never seen either the toddler or the boy cry, throw tantrums, or trouble their father, in any way. Quite unlike the children of well off parents, or the children of my friends’ circle, or even, my own little fellow, for instance. Perhaps because they have so little, the two children are happy with whatever they find — curiously shaped sticks, smooth stones, or for that matter, empty fruit cartons.
All of us more fortunate folk make such a big deal about juggling work and home, spending ‘quality’ time with our children, ensuring work-life balance, so on and so forth. And the companies we work for tout their “child-friendly” policies, their “bring-your-child-to-work” days to add sheen to their employee-friendly credentials. Such terms do not make sense to Murugan who barely studied and now ekes out a living with difficulty (in fact, he was bemused that I spent so much time with him asking all this!). For him, it is but natural to take care of his children, to earn a living. And he does both so well and always, without complaint.
Perhaps there is a lesson in that, for the rest of us.