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How Can Our Daughter Have Such An Ambition? What Would People Say?

There was something soothing in the way the water and soap would clean the spoons, pans and pots. The clean, shiny vessels would give her a sense of achievement. It was very difficult to explain this to her parents.

Ever since she was a child, Kirti had only one ambition. Until she turned 18, her parents would smile indulgently at her answer. However, now, after her post-graduation, when the answer was the same, they had begun to worry.

It wasn’t correct. What would people say? How could they let her do it? And thus, the blame game began.

As the mum, Anju had to listen to the angry words of both her husband and mother-in-law. Meanwhile, Kirti could see that this affected her mum but she couldn’t think of doing anything else either. She was ordered to go to her room immediately after dinner. She wasn’t allowed to help her mother at all. This affected her and she’d started to become withdrawn and silent.

Finally, in desperation, Anju shared her worry with her friend. This wasn’t something you told your relatives. It wasn’t something they’d understand.

After listening to all of her worries, Anju’s friend said, “Don’t worry, Anju. I have an idea. I can cure Kirti of this infatuation.”

“I hope your idea works, Anshu; but I am worried about Kirti. I understand everyone has freedom to decide what they want to do in life and it should be something one loves, but this… Sumit gets so angry. He blames me. So does his mother. For letting her help and learn everything. He doesn’t let her help me now. And she is getting depressed. I can’t see her like that, but how can I allow her to do what she wants?”

Meenal, Anshu’s daughter, who was following the conversation asked, “But what is this that she wants to do that is so unacceptable?”

“She wants to be a cleaning maid!  She wants to go to people’s houses and clean their zuthe (used) utensils. She had taken home science and then she did Hotel Management. But she does not get pleasure in working in hotels.

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“She has an offer from the Taj Group of Hotels. But she refused! Sumit says we didn’t spend so much money to educate her so that she would become a bartanwali (dishwasher). I know you will say they are humans too and that it’s not necessary to have no education for that profession and so on and so forth. But how can we let our daughter go and… ” her rant was cut short as she broke down and started to weep.

Meenal, who had suppressed her giggles when she heard of Kirti’s surprising ambitions, kept quiet. She could understand the mother’s problem.

“Where is Kirti?”

“She is in her room. But what are you planning to do Anshu?”

“See, she likes cleaning so I am going to take her with me. You know our flat in Ram Nagar? We have rented it and it needs to be cleaned. I was going to go today. I can take her to help me.”

“But how will it cure her infatuation?”

“Well she has done work in your house only. She has no idea what a big job is like. Once she sees how much effort and labour is needed….”

“Yes. It might help”

Kirti, who could hear all this conversation from her room, looked thoughtful. As long as she could remember, she liked washing utensils.

There was something soothing in the way the water and soap would clean the spoons, pans and pots. The clean shiny vessels would give her a sense of achievement. It was very difficult to explain this to her parents.

She would envy the househelp at their place. Especially during Diwali when Grandmother would take out huge pans and kadhais (woks) to make the chivda, chakli and shev. The utensils were so big that she could sit in them. She would help the ladies clean them.

At that time, her parents watched indulgently. Now, though, her father didn’t allow her in the kitchen except to eat.

The prospect of helping Aunty Anshu clean her flat seemed exciting. She got ready and wore her dungarees which were apt for a job like this and felt happier than she had in the past few days.

“Well?” asked Anju a few days later.

“She enjoyed it and worked very hard and asked me if there were more flats to be cleaned. So I recommended her to a few of my friends. And they were willing to pay her. She does a good job, you know? She is very quick,” Anshu responded.

“So now she will be cleaning other people’s houses. How is it better than cleaning utensils?” Anju was stunned.

“At least she is getting paid more than what you would expect a bartanwali to get.” Anshu retorted.

“So that idea has failed.”

*

“Meenal has decided to take Kirti with her to her catering service. If she likes it there, at least that would be better than what she wants.”

So Kirti went with Meenal – it was okay but it just wasn’t her thing. Cooking and decorating food or planning menus was not as interesting as the cleaning process. And she invariably ended up cleaning (which she enjoyed) but she would reach home very late and her father would just glare at her. She could not go on like this. She was getting cleaning orders for flats and empty houses and three of her friends had joined her.

Her job today involved cleaning up after a grand party of around 250 people. It was a rowdy party with drinks, loud music, dancing and people over-indulging and wasting food.

With all the noise, she was starting to have a headache. It was now nearly 2 am and only the catering team was left to clean up the mess.

She looked around. Paper cups, cigarette butts, vomit. There were even a couple of broken flower pots, the mud spilling out, oddly angled flowers with broken stems. And then because it was all so depressing, the overturned plastic chairs and food half-eaten on Styrofoam plates, she knew, in that moment, that she would have to make up her mind about it all. Did she really want to be here?

‘Yes!’ she thought. This was what she had wanted to do. Like the person who cleaned old paintings and brought them back to their earlier beauty, Kirti too, wanted to clean the mess and restore the beauty of the flat, the garden or the hall! This was what she had truly wanted.

Thus, “Clean Sweep – We clean your mess!” was born. When her friends joined her, she didn’t need to work with Meenal anymore. Since it was an entrepreneurial venture, which sounded respectable, her dad had no issues and by extension, neither did her mother.

As she sat with Kirti, Meenal asked her, “But what about washing utensils? From what I remember, it was your dream job!”

“Oh! That. Anshu aunty spoke to the priest at the temple. They feed hundreds of devotees every Thursday and I’ve begun volunteering there for two hours every week to help them clean the vessels. Since it’s a temple, my grandmother has no objections. And because I am volunteering, mom and dad cannot protest, either. Meanwhile, I get to do what I love the most – clean utensils till they shine!” Kirti responded triumphantly.

This story had been shortlisted for our October 2021 Muse of the Month short fiction contest. The juror, Himanjali Sankar has commented: “A refreshing and unusual story that shows how even if you have ambitions that aren’t the norm you can work around them and make a success of it. The author’s lightness of touch works very well and makes the story special.”

Image source: a still from the film The Lunchbox

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