Features Wednesday, July 15, 2015 - 05:30
At the age of 40, Annie Abraham finally has time for the violin lessons she had to give up as a child. She squeezes these one-hour lessons in between her roughly 19-hour day that involves doing four different kinds of work just to survive. For a long time, her day has started at 3 am. Life has been a constant jugaad for Annie. She has used her wits to obtain a dozen different jobs during her three-decade long working life. Even when she had no money, she refused charity. Annie is well known in her village Varapuzha, in Kerala’s Ernakulam district and that’s how I came to know about her. She took up her first job at the age of eight, delivering newspapers to her neighbours’ houses. Her father had just been arrested because there was a clash at the Fertilizers and Chemicals Travancore Limited in the district where he worked. “It was a Maundy Thursday. My mother was waiting for my father to bring jaggery and oil to prepare bread and the special milk, when we heard about his arrest. I did not shout or cry like my mother did,” she recalls. Instead, she rushed to a shop nearby, borrowed the things for Maundy Thursday and the family prepared the bread. She says that that was when she realized that she could do whatever she wanted to do. Her father was jailed for three months and Annie looked after her mother and two small brothers during that period. Gradually, she says she developed a sense of independence and dignity that did not allow her to accept charity. Although she studied up to Class X, she was better at art than at academics. In any case, she could not study further because the family was poor, and she was always working. Until the age of 14, when she was picked as a child artist for Malayalam films, Annie worked as a domestic help. She acted in “Janmantharam” (1988), and later got roles as a junior artist, which generated a steady income. For some time, things were good, until she got married. Her husband was a junior artist and in her opinion, “the worst man in the world”. In the years that followed, she often thought of killing herself – he would drink, allegedly assault her, he was cruel, and would disappear for days. “Many times I had tried to commit suicide, but one day I decided to live for my family, that some day, I will be happy,” she says. “After we had two kids he abandoned me. I was in trouble again as my father died, my brothers were small and my mother was sick. I could not even able to feed my kids,” Annie says. This is how the jugaad really began for her. For nearly 10 years she was doing seven different jobs just to make enough money to live and educate her children. She washed cars, did domestic work, sold fish, worked at road construction sites, was a cleaner in an office, and sold snacks on weekends. If say, road construction work was not available, she would compensate by making more snacks and selling them at bakeries. “I woke up at three in the morning, washed cars for first two hours then sold fish in the neighborhood. After that I went for road works, which I think is the hardest job. Our eyes would burn after the road was tarred,” Annie says. But she managed to save enough to buy an autorickshaw. “During this period I approached many directors whom I knew, but none of them was ready to give me a role. Some asked me to compromise something, but I was not able sell my dignity,” she says. Life got a little better in 2012 when she met ad filmmaker Revathy S Varmah. “She used to wash my car and I noticed her coming so early for work. Later we became friendly and she told me she was an artist and I gave her a role in my debut Malayalam movie Mad Dad. She is a good artist,” Varmah says. Acting in the film did not only boost her confidence, but also reminded her of her love for art. She resumed her violin studies. Before she started selling newspapers as a child, Annie was learning to play the violin as a Carnatic instrument. Today, Annie still does not sleep for more than five hours a day. This is better than in the past when she slept only for three hours. She starts her day at 3 am to wash cars, then rushes to her job as domestic help and cook. By 8 30 she is waiting at an auto stand for passengers. Her only break comes at 5 pm, when she takes an hour to go for her violin classes. Her last job for the day is to work at a catering unit.  
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