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This is a true story of my house-help Titli. Our house-helps deserve much more than what they make. I don't mean only monetarily, but respect, compassion and understanding too!
“Arre andar jao na, mujhe chadhne do!” (make space, let me get in), Titli yelled at the commuters who were dangling at the door of the local train. She shoved and pushed to make her way inside, in the hope of getting at least the fourth seat.
She’s in a rush to get to her work on time, she doesn’t want to be late, again!
Titli, an ever-smiling frail girl, clad in a simple salwar kameez, travels from a distant suburb, Virar, which is far away from proper Mumbai. She works as a house help – cleaning, cooking at 4 houses. Due to covid, she lost a lot of jobs. To reach Vile Parle, she has to change trains at Andheri. It’s always a race against time!
Those who have travelled on local trains in Mumbai know how difficult it is to board trains during peak hours and also the fact that you have to be there on time to board it, if you miss one train then you lose a lot of time in between.
“Mummy, take care of both of them, see to it they attend school, I’ve packed their favourite food today,” Titli informs her mother while dropping her son Om and daughter Saloni at her mother’s place, before rushing to the train station.
Once I asked her, “What time do you wake up? How do you manage your housework after toiling the whole day at work?”
“Didi, I wake up at 4 am to fill water, I have to go down to get drinking water, I fill four 20 litre Bisleri bottles, so I have to make four rounds up to the fourth floor every day,” Titli started off with her day’s routine.
“Where is your husband? Why doesn’t he help you in getting the water and why don’t you get water in your house tap?” there were many questions I wanted to ask but I just started with these.
“My husband is usually fast asleep then, he has to go to work na so I don’t wake him up. We don’t get water as the building hasn’t received OC and there are many other issues,” she continued.
“After that, I cook food for all of us and pack my husband’s tiffin, once he leaves by 7, I finish the rest of the work and wake my children up, my son is 7 years old and my daughter is 3. I give them something to eat, bathe them, pack their food and then drop them at my mother’s place which is a few buildings away. Then I quickly start walking to the train station which takes me at least 18 minutes,” Titli went on narrating her duties one after the other.
All this while, I was listening to her quietly without interrupting. At the back of my mind I kept on thinking how one person could do so much work at a go! I do some work and take a break, sitting with my phone checking messages.
“Why don’t you take ‘share a rickshaw’ (That’s a concept we have in many suburbs, it’s like car pool, rickshaw pool) till station, it will save time and energy,” I was inquisitive by now. “No didi, rickshaw takes 20 rupees one way, I cannot afford to spend 40 rupees every day on a rickshaw. And walking is a good exercise na,” she smiled at me.
But does she really need any more exercise than what she’s already doing? She’s already overexerting herself.
“What do you do after going back home?” I didn’t stop myself from asking her more questions. Thankfully, our ever-smiling Titli was more than happy to answer all my queries.
“I have to take the 3.30 pm train. If I’m lucky and catch it, then I’ll reach by 5.30 and I’ll pick my children up from my mother’s place. Once I’m home, I take a bath and wash all the clothes with the borewell water that we get at home. Then I make tea and snacks for myself and the children. They have so many stories to share over tea.
I have to start cooking before my husband is home, he would be so hungry when he gets back. Once cooking is done I have to teach my children whatever school work they have done. With online school I am the one who has to teach them everything, they hardly pay attention in school. We have dinner followed by ice cream. Then after cleaning up, I check my phone for WhatsApp messages. It’s almost 12 by the time I sleep.”
“Titli, are you serious you do all this in a days work! I get tired of doing the household chores that I have, plus I have help from you… and look at you… how? How do you manage all this and yet keep that smile intact on your face? When do you rest?” I was astonished beyond astonishment!
“We have to work didi, with covid everything has become even more difficult, my children are my strength.” With a bright face she went on, “If I manage to get fourth seat (one more concept coined by people of Mumbai travelling on local trains) I take a nap till my destination arrives, that’s my resting time,” she replied.
“And you have ice cream…every day?” I couldn’t help myself from asking her. “Yes didi, we cannot afford to fall sick, we cannot afford to miss work, we save money by not traveling in an autorickshaw, so that we can afford to fulfil our children’s wishes. Both my children love ice cream, we always keep it in the fridge so they can enjoy it every day,” she happily answered. “Didi, I make also pizza, pasta, pav bhaji for them, they really like it. I’ve learnt all this from my other madam at whose house I cook,” she added.
If I travel just for a day, I’m tired and need rest the next day, comfortably taking a nap in an air-conditioned room. And here we have Titli and many others like her.
They travel, be it scorching heat or pouring rain, almost four hours every day to get to work. They finish all their chores, take care of the children, work at five to six other homes to get back to their family by evening and for what? To earn a few thousand rupees, to make their ends meet, to give their children a bright future, to live a dignified life.
Now Titli is definitely someone who I would call a ‘super mom‘. And let me add, Titli rarely takes a leave from work, she doesn’t want me to be burdened with all the house work.
Just like her name, fluttering from one house to another, brimming with a smile, always upbeat and positive, spreading happiness and cheer.
Image source: Still from Nil Battey Sannata
(A version of this post has earlier appeared here: https://www.momspresso.com/parenting/1b265050774b4ff28d7d9a65471cb2ef/article/titli-0lrdi0rt2hdx)
Mother to a bubbly teenager and a student of psychology, I am also a travel enthusiast.
I love to observe the happenings around me and weave them into beautiful stories.
A writer with a passion read more...
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'Dr Saloni will take care of everything,' my MIL said. My cowardly husband refused to go against his mother’s wishes. I was left to fend for myself!
Some time ago, I went to a marriage ceremony with my parents. It was a very high-profile marriage – not the ones we usually were invited to – but in this case it was Ramesh uncle’s son’s marriage. Ramesh uncle was my father’s first cousin. He began his career as a humble elevator operator at the TIC business group. With his sheer hard work, grit, and the knack of sensing the right opportunities, within eighteen years he became the president of the company. My father and he were the best of friends during their school time.
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Mother was wearing all the jewellery she had got, including the big old-fashioned necklace, earrings and shiny bangles. Father was wearing a velvet coat, brother had put on a light orange shirt with a black check coat, I myself was wearing a red salwar kurta with a net dupatta. I had put on a necklace with red beads which at the time of wearing looked very pretty to me. Now looking at the other guests, I felt all four of us must be looking like clowns who had come for a fancy-dress competition. I felt my brother and parents were also feeling self-conscious and uneasy now.
“What you call love is actually possessiveness. You made all my decisions for me. I would probably be happier without you in my life,” Revant screamed!
Revati’s life had changed when, after ten years of being an only child, her parents brought in a stranger into the house. She had looked at the young boy who had wide, frightened eyes, and she had fallen in love with him on sight. He was small-made and a lone tear hung below his eye as he looked around at the huge house with its crystal chandeliers and eye-catching artefacts.
Ma had hugged him impulsively.
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Mumbai's public transport system has deteriorated so much in terms of the infrastructure and the crowds, and regular commutes have become a nightmare for women and for those with a disability!
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In short, she had no economic mobility in a country not very considerate of these things.
Post marriage life for women changes drastically, managing home, office, in-laws, kids (if there are) and spouse's needs. What about her needs?
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