MAID in India
As the morning sun peeped through the darkness, footsteps rumbled over the dried leaves that lay scattered on the streets. The noise, a combination of those feet wearing tight laced shoes, high socks, well fitted sports gears with protective ankle caps warming themselves up to yet another day. Finding feet, within them was another foot. The foot that did not quite fit.
It gave a sense that the heel was jutting out of the footwear, the big toe shifting constantly over the worn-out surface and the other toes almost fighting among themselves to stay within the footwear. A closer look revealed several colored threads weaved into the footwear giving an impression that the footwear has been constantly in use. Daily, across seasons and for years. Within all the other feet that were striding this was a foot set out to work but one whose rapping noise was seemingly overshadowed under the thumping and thrusts of the other shoes.
0700 hrs: JAYA
The air in the house resonated a sense of fidgetiness. The woman was pacing up and down with a constant glare towards the clock. The man just kept at bay knowing very well any action may only lead to him become an irritant. And within these anxious silent moments, the door bell rang.
“Good morning, akka (sister)”, said Jaya with a smile across her face. The smile that both reflected a greeting as well as an apology. Jaya maintained the face, till the door was entirely open and ‘akka’ standing on the other side passed out the most condescending look towards the clock one last time. The man hearing the voice, was relieved from his controlled silence.
“You are still drinking coffee, anna (brother)? You woke up late is it?”, asked Jaya to set the house in motion. Before the question reached a successful conclusion, Jaya popped another question, “What do I make for breakfast?”. This time to akka, who was already heading towards the kitchen. Again, before the specifics were answered Jaya thought, ‘But first, Tea!’ Jaya then leaned against the cooking counter and heard the specific instructions for today’s menu. The amount of rice, the number of chapati’s, the kind of dal, the mix of the vegetables, and as she heard her eyes were calculating which utensils were lying where, the spices that she had to pick, the knife that she needed to use, the vegetables that needed to be washed etc. Jaya was astutely multitasking.
Suddenly, the silence of the morning died under the whistle of the pressure cooker, the sound of mustard crackling in hot oil in a pan, the collision of the vessels and light humming sound that Jaya voiced under her breath. The pace at which she worked were triggers for each to commence their individual actions. Jaya now had assumed command over the proceeding. She shrieked out a loud cry “Breakfast is ready!” The voice had such urgency that the man and the woman felt that they are the cause of all the delay since morning! They scampered to ensure Jaya did not make another loud cry.
As Jaya’s akka and anna sat across the table, she peeped towards them. Just to catch any gesture to indicate that the breakfast is scrumptious. Then heading towards the door, she asked one last question “what time tomorrow, akka?”. “The usual”, replied akka. Jaya stood with a wry smile on her face and left with a concluding statement, “Bye anna, bye akka!”
1100 hrs: HEMA
With a basket of vegetables and fruits in her hand, she opens the main gate of the house and strides towards the door. Shuffling her slippers in front of door, she takes out the keys from her upper clothing and unlocks the door. “You have come, beti (daughter)? You got late in the market today?” enquires grandmother who is seated in the sofa in front of the television. Hema just smiles looking towards her and replies ‘Today, I have a lot of stories for you!” In the same breath, Hema says, “didi (Sister), here is the remaining money, and here is the bill!” and neatly arranges the buys into their respective compartments.
After spending a few minutes in her room, and changing into her house clothes and slipper, she comes with medicines and glass of water towards grandmother. Then making her sit on a stool, Hema stands behind her and oils her hair, leaving the sofa empty. As the oils rub on the head, out comes Hema's stories. “You know, I met Pathakji’s wife today near the fish market. She had put on lipstick and was wearing large earrings!” The more the oil spread over grandmother’s scalp and down her long grey hair, the more detailed information about Pathakji’s wife, Vermaji’s daughter, Sinhaji’s cousins and Singhji’s new house stories are poured out. The grandmother relished the oil and more than that the news!
Only to be broken by an irritated voice, “What nonsense do you both keep talking about? Do you have nothing else to speak; and Hema, you stop gossiping all day to Ma-ji about all this. You just keep filling up her ears. I don’t know if I am also a gossip to both of you!”. The voice was of whom Hema referred to as didi.
“Beta, you don’t have time to speak to me. At least, this way I get to speak”, interjected grandmother. “Yes, she is the one who is always right, and I am the one who is wrong” retaliated Hema’s didi. In between all this Hema, just kept silent, she did not intervene.
Whatever she wanted to communicate was apparent in the uneasiness and the vigorous nature in which her hand now moved across grandmother’s hair.
‘I don’t know why you always take side of the bai, over your own daughter’, didi quipped as she walked away answering the phone. Grandmother fell silent and Hema just wrapped up the last strands of the hair. She turned back towards her room with the recurring conflict that she had been carrying with her for the last seven years – Beti or Bai?
1700 hrs: SUSHMA
From a distant she could see the lights lit up early in the house. On the front door, were shoes of various kinds. An indication that guests were at home. Sushma knew that today she had to use the rear door. She went up and with her chappals in her hand knocked at the door. She knocked again a few times till the lady of the house dressed fashionably appeared and remarked, “Why are you so impatient? Why do you knock so many times? Don't you understand that there are guests at home! And, why do wear the same clothes every day?”
Sushma, lowered her head and nibbled her way towards the kitchen. Then with the same lowered head, followed the orders of what needs to be heated, kept ready and cleaned. The only order that was reiterated was “I should not hear your voice at all, today. Just keep silence”, as the lady tip toed out towards the guests.
“Finally, the queen has arrived”, the lady announced to the guests.
Causing a loud laughter from each of the seated guests that echoed all the way into the kitchen. The laughter only broken further into anecdotes - by both male and female guests.
“My one is so demanding, every time they are in need of something or the other”;“I tell you, they behave as if they are so busy, they always have someone visiting them’; “The one that comes in the morning needs a day off every month”; "Actually they are all the same!”
As the words muted behind the cheering of glasses and thunderous claps, Sushma sat on the kitchen floor carefully - without leaning on any object - holding a plate with an assortment of food – a collection from the previous few days. While she kept an eye on the plate, her ears remained focused in anticipation to pick up any other adjectives that were perhaps being spoken about their ‘kind’.
Within the voices, Sushma made a noise by repetitive actions of clearing her throat just to catch attention of the lady. After a few failed attempts when the lady did turn her heads towards the kitchen, she raised the eyebrows indicating Sushma to leave. But before she did, she had one more sarcastic remark up her sleeve, “Will you be coming tomorrow, or is there some excuse?” Sushma simply bowed and shook her head in confirmation. She turned the door, took her chappals, and under the thudding noise of the door, she just gasped.
1900 hrs: REKHA
The two girls lying on the sofa cum bed were enjoying the day after work; nurturing themselves, and by applying some face pack and nail polish on their groomed fingers. The Bluetooth speaker played an Alisha Chinai song from the 90’s. Rekha, with the broom in hand, enjoyed the music but more than that admired from a distance looking how the girls were spending their evening.
With every swipe of the broom, she would a spare a few seconds looking at the details closely. The colour of the nail polish, the way it was stroked over the finger nails, the dry to wet appearance of the face pack, only to be suddenly halted with the question, “Do you also want to apply? Come here and I'll apply some, it will look good”, said one of the girls. That made Rekha shy. ‘No, no”, she repeated a few times hid her face, and disappeared out of sight with a blush across her face.
As she squatted on the washroom floor, her eyes caught a glimpse of the condition of her own feet and hands and how it was so much different from the ones the two girls portrayed. A question of fate crossed Rekha’s mind and she just chuckled it off knowing very well that the mind was entering a territory of desire. She tried to resist but not for too long as her eyes fell onto the variety of clothes that lay in front of her to work.
The short black dress, the embroidered kameez, the long skirt, the pair of denim shorts and even the kinds of undergarments. Those clothes made Rekha aspire. Rekha now dreamt of her in a world like these two working girls.
A life where she had different attires – one for work and the other for home. One where she could pamper her body with well fitted undergarments and comfortable clothing that aired a sense of freedom. Rekha was transported to a world of her own, at the same flow of the water from the tap that drenched the clothes.
With hopes and dreams in her eyes, she washed and dried each of the clothing’s with care and ownership. But even more than that with equal awareness she ensured that the saree she was wearing did not become wet. As she crossed the girls, still in their musical world, she heard one of them say, “Independent working girls who are making their own life. They are the true sign of development of this country. They will be the voice of society.” Rekha fading behind the main door, just chuckled.
The feet now rested on the floor, stretched with the little child playing on her legs. It was the usual ritual before dinner, and after completion of the daily chores. This is the way she waited for her husband to return. "From where?", she did not ask. She only waited for him to be back. She never had dinner before he came, and one of the reasons she waited was just to know how much he had earned. Not to compare, but to share the burden.
As she heard the loud thudding noise on the door, she looked up. The state of her husband revealed to her where he mostly would have been. He just limped towards the bed to sleep. She put the child aside, served herself and kept staring at her footwear. The one with the multi-coloured threads. It reminded her of tomorrow.