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A beautiful story of a domestic worker’s sorrows – and joys – something most affluent folks who employ domestic help rarely think about.
Radha was in a deep slumber when thundering black clouds woke her up early morning. She cursed as she lay down on the floor, and tried to drown the loud clanking of the rain drops on her tin roof.
Rain again! All the balconies would get dirty. It would take so much more time cleaning them all!
As she got ready to leave for work she realized that one of the umbrellas they owned was broken. She handed over the intact one to her husband since he had to travel quite a distance to reach the mall where he worked as a security guard. She picked up a polythene bag, covered her head and ran towards the posh society where she worked as a maid.
“Radha, late again! I have told you so many times that I have to leave for office. Now get on with the work and mind your clothes…you are dripping all over the carpet.”
Radha said nothing and went to get the broom. She got to see all shades of white, grey and black in the houses where she worked.
Didi 1 was always impatient, always complaining. But she wasn’t really bad at heart. She would complain, give her a set of instructions and then not bother her at all.
Didi 2 was a nice, sweet lady but her mother- in-law was something else. She would follow Radha around like a shadow and point out any nook or corner missed. It took her almost double the time to complete her work in this house but she stayed on. Didi always gave her extra money, without the knowledge of Aunty-ji.
Didi 3 was her favourite. This was the house where she was always welcomed with a cup of tea and breakfast. She shared all her problems with didi and listened to her stories. Didi was even helping her and teaching her how to cook. Radha’s aim was to become a cook soon. That would mean shorter and easier working hours and a better salary as well.
She hated the last house she worked in. But she was stuck working there – didi was holding her salary ransom! Didi 4 had a reputation and no one was willing to work there. So she had told Radha that till the time she found a replacement she would not pay her salary. And to top it all, she found one excuse after another to deduct her salary on the tiniest of excuses.
Radha was happy as all three of the houses had paid her dues. On top of that her favourite Didi had given her an advance plus lots of things for her children, along with a beautiful pink umbrella! She brandished it proudly as she headed to the last house, imagining how her daughter would react when she saw the umbrella.
She was leaving for her village in a few days.
She would get to see her three children after almost two years.
Thinking of her children brought tears to her eyes but she quickly brushed them off.
She was doing it for a better future for their children. She and her husband had been working hard for the past few years in the city, thousands of kilometers away from their hometown. They worked long hours, going without a lot of things just to save an extra few rupees.
But she was proud that she (along with her husband Kishan) had saved enough to make a ‘pukka’ house in their village, freed some disputed land and taken care of their children’s education.
This time their elder son would join them in the city. He had completed his 12th standard and Kishan had talked to his Saab, who had agreed to employ him in his office.
Life would get tougher for a while, all three of them in the small jhuggi…. no privacy. Kishan had hinted at all this but Radha was elated. At least she would be able to spend time with her first born!
Radha was lucky. Kishan was not like most of the husbands. They shared a relationship which had love, care and respect.
Kishan might not have the money to shower her with gifts but he did all that he could. Any day Radha returned late – staying for a party in a Didi’s house, he would prepare the dinner for both of them. He had not spent any money on his clothes for the past so many years as he gladly wore all the hand me downs.
But for Radha he would insist on buying a new sari every year, on her birthday and Durga Pooja.
Radha smiled a little as she headed to the last house. Kishan had hinted that he would be getting a special gift for her- a gift like no other!
They had bought gifts for everybody back in the village. Radha had packed a few of her new saris for her mother-in-law and sisters-in-law. When Kishan had objected she told him that they needed to do as much as they could for them since they were taking care of their children, back in the village.
That’s when Kishan had walked out muttering to himself, “What’s the point of getting her anything. She never keeps anything! This time I will get her something that she will never be able to pass on to anybody!”
Radha reached home, angry and frustrated. She tossed her prized umbrella and started banging around the few utensils they had. All the happiness and excitement was replaced by anger. She knew that the last Didi would create problems handing over her dues but she had not been prepared for what had happened.
Didi had handed her half her salary claiming that she had broken her crockery and spoiled some clothes. Lies, all lies! When Radha had pleaded with her, Didi told her to get lost or she would complain to the police that she stole her things.
“So, just because we are poor, we have no self respect. I was not asking for charity, only my hard earned money! My money!”
Radha broke down and cried uncontrollably.
10 pm and still no sign of Kishan. It had started to rain heavily again. Radha’s anger was replaced by worry and fear now. She tried his phone but it was switched off. He never did this. When he had to go out to drink with his friends, he always informed her. What had happened? Radha sat with her eyes fixed on the road.
The rice and vegetable lay cold in the pot.
It was around 11pm when she finally saw a dark shadow walking towards her jhuggi. It was Kishan. Radha ran all the way and almost dragged him in, shouting and cursing.
“Where were you? Did you see the time? Your phone was off. I was worried sick! Thought you were in an accident! Where would I go? Who cares for me, how could you do this…… how would I wake up on time tomorrow? you are so selfish and arrogant and careless…”, Radha kept complaining as she dried his hair with a towel, gave him dry clothes and reheated the food.
She was crying now. The day had been just too much for her.
Kishan sheepishly sat on the floor as she banged the plate in front of him. Slowly he handed her a polythene bag.
Radha shot him a puzzled look as she opened the plastic bag. It had a piece of paper, with something scribbled on it. She held it up and finally asked, “What? What is this now?”
“This…this is my gift for you!”
Kishan smiled as he took the paper back.
“This is a flight ticket – for you and me! This time we will go to Kolkata in an airplane! And I got you a window seat!”
“What? Flight? For us? That costs three times the train fare! Did you really? Why?” Radha asked in one breath.
Kishan held her hard, coarse hands in his.
”I can never give you much Radha…try as I might. We will spend all our lives working, day in and day out. This life will continue on for I don’t know how many more years like this. Our responsibilities will only increase…saving for Gudiya’s marriage. I can not take you to see new places and I know that. But at least I can show you the same places from a different view. I can give you an experience, that will stay with you forever. Something that you can not pass on to others.
I can give us wings Radha! Wings that would give our mundane life flight, even if it’s for a few hours! I want to give us a chance to live a dream, even if it is for a little while. Let’s fly Radha…let’s fly together.”
Radha wiped her tears for the third time in the day. But this time it was different.
A version of this was first published here.
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