The Ayah's Tale, by Sujata Massey
Sujata Massey, author of the wonderful The Sleeping Dictionary and the Rei Shimura series, has written a novella about the relationship between an Indian ayah and the English children under her care.
The role of a child care taker is a complicated one. During a few summers in college, I worked as a nanny taking care of my two cousins in Seattle. I also babysat extensively during high school and formed strong attachments to many of my charges. When I left my two cousins at aged 2 and 4 to go to Japan, I sobbed because I knew how much I would miss them. I had grown very attached to both of them.
My situation was different than Menakshi, who was forced to drop out of school and take up a job as an ayah (nanny) because of her father's death and her family's poverty. Although she had great potential, she had to give up her own dreams to help her family.
Even though the children in her care were privileged and spoiled, she becomes attached t to them and they to her. What the children (especially middle child, Julian) don't understand is the complication in this attachment. The children's mother, Marjorie, is snobbish and shallow, and disengaged from her children's lives and inner thoughts. She doesn't want to spend much time with her children, but she also feels resentful because of their attachment to Menakshi, their ayah. The children don't understand that Menakshi is paid to be with them: it's not her choice, and she has her own life.
I always enjoy reading stories that take place in locations where I've lived or visited. Menakshi's story starts and ends in Georgetown, Penang in Malaysia, a place I visited in 1988. Sujata Massey beautifully depicts the life of an Indian ayah and the complicated relationships that people in the employ of their colonial employers had to deal with--and in fact, still deal with in many countries.
Even though Menakshi endures great hardships in her life, she finds love in these pages and a more hopeful future than working as an unappreciated ayah. So even though her life improves, she feels some sense of loss as she misses these English children who came to love her.
I'm looking forward to Sujata Massey's next full-size novel. I prefer novels to short stories and novellas, although this was a fun one to read!