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When Radha couldn't come for a few days, Mimi's parents behaved like the world had ended. Then they realized their house help's son had a fatal disease...
When Radha couldn’t come for a few days, Mimi’s parents behaved like the world had ended. Then they realized their house help’s son had a fatal disease…
‘Papa, what do you think? Will she agree? Papa!!!’
Manas lowered the paper to face Mimi at last. His daughter was not going to give up until she received some acknowledgement.
‘I don’t think so Mimi. As I told you already, today is not a good day for Ma.’
Mimi sulked her lips. She knew it was not a good day for Ma. But the problem was, it was never going to be a good day for Ma, and in fact all of them, for forever now!
Because Radha Didi (their house-help) had called in sick, and it seemed from the way Ma had started crying (a mix of ineligible excited words punctuated with sob like sounds) – that this might be the biggest calamity to have befallen on them in the recent times.
Radha Didi had called from her husband’s cell phone to inform that she needed some time off. Mimi wasn’t sure why, for Ma hadn’t spent as much time explaining why as she had in expressing how inconvenient it’s going to be for them now. Their world was going to end! Radha hadn’t known for how long she needed to not come! That was unbelievable, uncomfortable, and unacceptable!
‘Please papa. We don’t know when Radha will be back. Please talk to Ma na! Please, please, please!!??’
Manas sighed. These days weren’t easy, already. Shilpa was not having an easy time adjusting to Kolkata. The slower pace, the undeniable bureaucracy that was the way of life, even the malls with their cheaper, simpler stuff – everything Manas was liking about the city of joy, Shilpa was having trouble with.
In addition, living nuclear meant finding care for Mimi was a nightmare. His parents weren’t there anymore to attend to a cranky afterschool Mimi when they got home late every evening. It was all on them now. The general home management support was also gone. To add cherry on this already scrumptious cake, their barely a few months old maid had now called in sick for god only knew how long!
‘You are being very difficult Mimi.’ He said. ‘This will have consequences!’
Mimi didn’t respond. There were always consequences. Life is an exam where the syllabus in unknown and question papers are not set. Papa himself said this all the time. So of course, this would have consequences, like the red marks all over on a very tough paper. But for now, all that mattered was for papa to say yes for the bouncy house plans at the mall for the weekend. All other things could be dealt with as they came – one question at a time.
Shilpa was visibly exasperated. Sweat beads on her forehead, the bangs always neatly clipped were plastered across and the usually ironed home wear beyond rumpled.
‘No, Ma! That is not what the issue is here!’ She eyed Manas, signalling him to pass her as she balanced the cordless receiver between her shoulder and head. Her hands were full – a broom in one and a notepad in another.
Manas couldn’t figure out how to pass. The floor was flooded, possibly from the overturned bucket not far away. So, he placed himself precariously right where he was instead, handing his wife his pen to try and make himself useful.
‘How am I supposed to hold this?’ The latter snared at him angrily, thrusting the note pad to him. ‘Here, you write it down. This is your home too for God’s sake.’ Manas obliged, all ears and eager to write down whatever it is that was going to be dictated.
‘Ma. Again – you are not understanding. I can’t take days off! I have finished off my sick days thanks to the Diwali Puja you insisted we had to visit for last month and I am not touching our paid time off. We have paid already for Thailand.’
Manas tried to judge if this was what needed to be written down. He couldn’t remember having paid for Thailand, although he did know what was being referred to. They were planning for a vacation package to East Asia over the winter holidays.
It was possible that Shilpa had indeed completed the bookings, for she handled vacations – but he didn’t think so. Manas was now a bit stressed – his mind shifting from his wife’s mood and housework to having to submit leave applications at work. Shilpa should have told him! She knew his boss was a moron and would demand a heads-up months before, even for vacation time he had due.
‘Fine. Give me the number – I will make do with the useless Durga again.’ Shilpa’s angry submission brought him back to the matter in hand. He needed to jot down what was coming. Durga had worked for them before – really more a caretaker than a house help – she was an old contact of his mother’s friend in Kolkata, Mrs. Lahiri. And that was Shilpa’s problem with Durga.
Not only did she refuse most tasks for being below her dignity, she also transported efficiently what transpired in their household to Mrs. Lahiri, and via her to his mother. It had to be real desperation if Shilpa was agreeing to get Durga over. Manas realized that he’d really have to do something.
The Saraswati Agarwal Marwari Charitable Hospital was unremarkable from outside but quite an event inside. There were microcosms of activities, from triage units to grievance cells – each a separate universe in itself – set up within one ginormous hall room.
Radha and her family were situated towards the very end. Manas was nervous. Maybe this wasn’t a good idea at all. In his defence however, Radha’s husband had not mentioned anything about a hospital on phone when Manas had insisted on a location to find her.
They didn’t live together anymore, so maybe he hadn’t known. According to Radha’s husband, Radha was now staying around here with a relative. But the call hadn’t been picked up once Manas had reached here and Manas was ready to go back when he ran into Bela.
Bela was Radha’s distant relative and had brought Radha to them. Bela was now escorting him through the maze of sickness and desperation to Radha. Manas was surprised that Radha had continued to work for them in spite of having to move out so far from their area. Bela had found work nearby, surely Radha could have too.
Manas remembered the one time she had overheard Radha talking to Mimi. ‘I love you Mamoni,’ the former had said, ‘ will always take care of you, don’t worry.’ At that time, Manas hadn’t paid much heed to the conversation, registering it in his mind only out of a bit of guilt. Because what had initiated it was Mimi’s sobbing complaint on missing her Ma and Papa every evening. But now, he wondered if it could really be that Radha trudged such distance every day without complaint, leaving her own child behind for longer than she needed to, for Mimi!
‘There you go Dada.’ Bela pointed her finger towards the huge window now partly boarded up on the South East corner of the hall room. ‘Thank you for coming to see her. Not everyone would…. she is in a bad situation, you know…they still can’t say if he will live.’
Bela meant Radha’s only son who had a congenital heart failure. Manas felt slightly dizzy – maybe it was the stench, or maybe it was the realization that he knew nothing about the life of the woman whose absence of 2 days had turned their lives upside down. He hadn’t come here to visit her son. He was coming here to offer her money or whatever it took to get her to come to work as soon as possible.
‘She took a few days off already Ma. We are very lenient – your son more than I as you know. We allowed her the usual four days off during Puja, and then she got the days off really for all purposes when we were out of town during Diwali. I mean, all she had had to do was come in once a day to check, sweep and lock up the place. God only knows how many times she really did come anyways. So I am counting over a week off already…and now she falls sick…or her son falls sick….’ Shilpa stopped catching sight of Manas entering. He was drenched. Something else was wrong. Something else seemed to be very wrong with him.
Mimi thought about what could be done one more time. Ma and Papa were not talking to each other, and that was not good for her. Whatever it was, it was mostly wrong with Papa she felt. For the last two days, he had been getting up before them, sweeping the house and washing off last night dishes in the kitchen sink. Mimi couldn’t believe her eyes the first morning! Even more surprising was the fact that Ma had said nothing either!
‘Why are you doing this papa?’ She had asked.
‘Why not?’ Manas had answered. Her eight-year-old brain rarely fogged, but this had been one of those moments. Mimi thought nervously what could be brought forward as an idea now to still salvage the weekend plans. Nothing came to her mind.
‘Mimi,’ Manas’s voice startled her. She hadn’t heard him coming into her room.
‘I would like you to come with me to somewhere. Can you get ready?’
‘Where papa? To the bouncy house thing?’ Mimi couldn’t hide the excitement in her voice. Maybe God had heard her thoughts…
‘You will see.’ Manas didn’t elaborate anymore. He looked at his daughter bouncing out of the room in exhilarated anticipation of an afternoon of bouncing at the mall.
Shilpa couldn’t decide if she should be hiding her irritation anymore. She glanced once again at Manas, who was driving with more intent than she had ever seen him do. The usual nuisances of Kolkata driving – the honks – the cyclists scratching by – the pesky autos – all seemed to be insubstantial to him today. His focus was on something else.
‘Where are we going Manas?’ Shilpa gave in at last to her restless mind.
‘Hello – I am speaking to you? Why are you behaving weird these last few days? What’s the point of this weird dra-’ Shilpa stopped mid-sentence.
Manas had taken a turn into the Amherst Street region! What business could they need to have here? It had been ages since Shilpa had come this way – avoiding with intent the congestion and mess that was interior old Kolkata.
Manas pulled over in front of an old, mildly reeking wall and stopped the car. Saraswati Agarwal Marwari Charitable hospital – the faded sign said. Mimi looked up from her tablet to figure out what was going on.
‘Manas?’ Shilpa slowly queried. Her voice soft this time. Asking, not accusing.
Manas breathed deep. In his thirty seven years of life, he had never done much of anything that could be called brave. This was quite possibly going to be the only thing to list for both his past years and future.
He had been thinking of doing this for days now….at last, today, he had forced himself. He still hadn’t had the courage to ask Shilpa – the discussions – the fights…he knew what she’d say…But hopefully, when he breaks his decision in front of Babun and Radha, and Mimi, Shilpa won’t be able to object…
‘I will explain Shilpa.’ He answered. ‘Please just come in with me.’
Radha stared at them, still dazed. It hadn’t been long. It hadn’t been long at all. Babun was still in her arms, just until now. It was just now that they had taken him. Covered with a sheet, he had looked small – smaller than what he had become over the last month of illness.
‘Radha, we are here to take Babun. I have gotten him a room at AMRI. It’s much better there, and he will be under the top specialists.’ Manas glanced at his wife as he spoke.
When he stopped, he realized that there was silence. No one else was speaking. There was no overwhelmed cry of joy from Radha, no tears of gratitude…just silence…
Mimi and Shilpa were staring at them puzzled…why wasn’t Radha saying anything? Why was she staring blankly at them instead?
Manas felt a bit exasperated and a sudden sense of panic as Radha slowly collapsed to her knees…
Image source: Still from Juice
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Manages supply chain teams in Intel Corp. Blogger, writer and poet. Founder and Director Her Rights (www.herrights.website). Contributor Huffington Post US, The Logical Indian. Poetry and fiction published in several US, UK and read more...
Women's Web is an open platform that publishes a diversity of views, individual posts do not necessarily represent the platform's views and opinions at all times.
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