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Archu is my maid and she calls me Taai (older sister). But life took us in different directions that makes me wonder now – whose life is better?
Archu is the same age as me. Archu was just 8 years old when she accompanied her mother Leela kaki (our house maid) almost every day. Always happy and bubbly, she helped her mother in washing the utensils. She was my first closest playmate and younger sister, and loved my games and dresses. I gave away my dresses to her which I didn’t like, but which she adored.
When I was learning about Leo Tolstoy and the Pythagoras theorem, she was struggling to write grammatically correct Marathi. I often scolded her for wasting time working and ignoring studies. She almost always smiled back and continued her scrubbing and cleaning. I often sympathized with her lack of aim in life, and felt proud of my ‘privileged’ upbringing…
At the age of 17, when I was struggling with four hours of coaching and six hours of schooling in my HSC year, Archu got married. She had already failed 10th standard a couple of times, and so was over the clouds with this new development in her life. I tried to reason with Leela kaki to let her study a little more.
But Archu’s excitement was contagious and I gave in. On her wedding day, I felt more of a sympathy because I thought her life will be wasted toiling at home and following the husband’s diktats. Fortunately, her husband was supportive, caring and did not ask her to work.
Two years later, I was in the second year of engineering. It was the time for self-exploration, new understanding and experiences. When I was busy partying and enjoying, with my newly acquired identity and friend circle, Archu delivered her first baby – a girl. I worried how she would handle motherhood at such an early age – she would have to face the consequences of her decisions. Thank God, I was still far away from motherhood and childbirth.
Two years later, I got my first job and Archu delivered her second baby, again a girl. I didn’t even bother to call her. I was high on my new job, new city, new financial independence. I thought Archu was beyond the level of explanation. I was glad though, when I came to know from my mother that Archu’s husband didn’t demand a ‘boy’ and was happy with their two daughters, and she had undergone the ‘family planning operation’. I breathed a sigh of relief.
I was curious to meet her, and two weeks before my wedding she came – happy, bubbly, excited and full of energy, to help me for my big day. She was an expert mom by now, carrying her younger daughter in her arms with the older one tagging beside her.
She had started working as house maid on her own now. No, her husband didn’t ask that she work, but she herself felt the need for some more money for sending her daughters to “English Kanvint” (Convent) school. A little thinner now, Archu had transformed into a hands-on-mom and a working woman within a span of five years. She radiated a raw confidence and determination. I was pleasantly surprised and happy for her.
I was 30 when I got pregnant. I stayed at my mom’s home since the ninth month of my pregnancy and Archu was overjoyed. She was the foremost in caring for me with all her expert advice. Her daughters were 8 and 6 years old and quite independent by then. Archu was the one who massaged my baby with utmost care and love. I was so stressed with the physical pain and emotional trauma in the first few weeks after childbirth that I was really grateful for the constant presence of a friend with whom I could talk and relax.
With so much available to my service, I was still miserable. I thought, with so little help, how Archu managed it at the age of 19 years. I finally started realizing the strength of her will and sheer grit. How I wrongly judged the life of my friend?
Two years ago, we purchased our own 1000 sqft of flat in a big city. The financial independence I prided myself with, was suddenly shunted. I was mentally exhausted managing the finances with the EMIs and bills, while the cost of living went haywire. 500 km away, Archu purchased a vast piece of land from her and her husband’s hard earned money a little away from the town.
When I was cribbing about the rising population, pollution and traffic in the city, Archu was ploughing her farm and reaping the fresh harvest from her hard work. She was leading a life amidst the nature with peace and contentment.
When I visit my mother’s home, Archu comes once every two days and brings fresh vegetables from her farm for free. She has stopped her maid work and now earns almost as much as me just from farming, plus the peace as bonus. She has put on a little weight and now looks radiant and healthy. Both her daughters are studying in ‘English Convent’. But in spite of that, I realize that I am still her “Taai” when she asks if I got some of my old dresses for her. Her joy and confidence makes me rethink my concept of privileged living.
She is worried with my sudden weight loss and asks me “kya hua”. I dismiss it saying, it’s just work pressure. She asks me to take care of myself but when I look into her eyes, I sense SYMPATHY, FOR ME.
Archu is my maid and I am her Taai. But today, I think, is she really?
Header image is a still from Nil Battey Sannata
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