My mother has always had a way with the housemaids; almost all our mothers do have a similar set of emotions for them. For me, dealing with housemaids had always been a bad experience. My mother often said, “Look she is the one who is doing the real work for us — cooking, cleaning, washing and all other necessary things. Money isn’t enough to thank them for their services. You ought to pay them a lot of respect.”
Meanwhile I had a strange repugnance for them. Their shrill voices got onto my nerves, the dreadful look they passed when I walked through the mopped part of the floor, their continuous gossiping about other aunties of my locality disturbed me.
My last housemaid was succeeded by a girl, in her early twenties. Her name was Gayatri. She was the one who was recommended by the former housemaid before she left to stay with her son in some different city. The first day she arrived, I still remember, I was leaving for school. She never looked up, while she walked. That’s the reason why she was about to bump into me when I somehow dodged her and rushed away for my bus. When I returned, I told my mother about the morning incident. Perhaps, it was one of my wage attempts to justify my hatred for them. She shushed me as usual.
If there was a term to justify my feelings for all the maids, it would be animosity, extreme hatred. But she was a little different. Over the days, I found that she never screamed or yelled. I barely heard her voice throughout the day. She never rose up her head to watch who passed through the freshly mopped floor. The payment was the only thing she spoke for, that too very softly. Astonishingly, she had dissolved my disregard towards the housemaids. Thus, one fine day, I asked my mother about the reason of her being different from others we had yet. It was pretty different than what I had expected.
My mother told me that she was the daughter of one of the other maids who died of a disease, a few years back. Her mother had toiled hard to get her the basic education. Her father had died long ago. The only dream that her mother had was to see her complete her education. The same year, she was married to a man who was earning in some coal mine. Naturally it was not a choice but was a result of the pressure from the society. Her spouse denied her any further education and thus she had to quit. Her spouse died after two years of their marriage of some accident in the coal mines. She had two children to look after and hence she started working as a maid.
She never talked about anything. I had never seen her smile in that complete one year. She lived in a small hut that was in a nearby slum area where most of the housemaids lived. Her children rolled and played in the dust all day, until she returned for lunch and then dinner.
It was the time for my new sessions to begin and I had just bought my new school books. She entered my room to broom the floor when she saw my new books and kept staring for a moment. I could see that yearning for those books, perhaps, her lost education. But she knew that she couldn’t pursue her education now. Hence, she resumed to broom the floor.
That day, I decided to do something for her. I stacked in a pile of all my elementary level school books that were in fine condition and asked for some more along with some extra stationary stuff from the rest of my friends. We carried them to her house, the very next Sunday evening on my bicycle. Near the door was a little kid who jumped towards us in excitement, once we approached. He then ran in, through the small door and came out holding her by the hand while she was reluctant. She opened the door in bewilderment. The following moment was full of complex emotions on her part. She saw that pile of books and other stationary stuff and my smiling friends and her dancing children. She smiled too, while tears rolled down her face. She said she was obliged. I don’t know whether those books were of any help to her kids. I didn’t care if I had to spare my new pack of crayons. All I knew was that she had smiled, for the first time that day, after a long time.
(By Shivam Satyam)