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My help, Rukma, is a lovely person with a staunch personality. Her stories and 'investigations' keep me entertained through the day.
In the matter of domestic helps, I have always been lucky. I have one principle – I won’t sack them unless they want to leave. Because I believe a known devil is better than an unknown one.
And every new maid (I know some people think that this is not a politically correct address) brings a new set of problems that have to be solved, adjusted with, and rationalized if we have to co-exist peacefully. I know I need her more than she needs me.
The kind of shitty working conditions and salary that an average bhabhi offers, jobs are dime a dozen for these women. And if the maid is reasonable, informs in advance before taking leave, and does not steal, then she should be treasured. Expecting perfection is doomed.
My Sunita bai, the one who is a feminist, has left. Her son was getting married. He did not want his wife to know about his mother’s work history. He is earning quite well. He insisted that she should leave the job.
Anyway, she had left all her other jobs and was working only at my place. Her son promised to give her the salary that she was getting from me as pocket money from him every month.
So, she left, repeatedly telling me that she would be back if she cannot get along with her DIL because she firmly believes coming out of home for a few hours improves one’s mood and puts ghar ki kit-kit in a proper perspective. Therefore, a year ago Sunita brought Rukma as a replacement.
Short, dusky, in her fifties, Rukma is energetic and chirpy. Very confidently she stated her conditions. She will take three chutti per month (Privilege leave! Ha!). They will be accumulated.
She will take ‘sarvjenik’ holidays too. I laughed and clarified, ‘Is Sunday too a public holiday in your book?’ She coolly replied, “Majak karte, Bhabi?’ She knows English and she wants me to realize that she knows English.
Every day she asks, “May I come in, madam?” One of her daughters is in Homeguards, the youngest is training to be a nurse and the middle one is married to a farmer who employs a ‘diver’ (driver), meaning he is well-off.
The daughters have tried to teach her English and Rukma likes to show off – mind you, she has a great sense of humor.
The other day she announced, “Bhabhi, mera duster kidnap ho gaya!” because she found it missing from the place where she had left it. Another time she left me confused when she proudly announced she had got Nirmala, another maid, a parking job.
I just assumed that Nirmala must have become an assistant to the watchman of the building. Later on, to my consternation, I found that Rukma had got Nirmala a part-time job in a flat on the third floor.
One day while I was giving her a packet of wheat dalia, which I was not going to use, she asked me, “Have you seen the date of birth? Changla ahey naa?” By now being used to her English I understood she was enquiring about its expiry date.
Rukma follows the Parmatma Ek sect and takes the teachings very seriously. She won’t even wash the glasses if alcohol has been served in them. She is very fond of singing, will always be singing in a low voice if she is not talking, and knows many songs by heart.
She has very high self-esteem. She is convinced that she has the best of everything. Her husband earns, does not drink, and does not beat her. “Best navara hai majha.”
He just wanted to have a son and lucky Rukma got a son in the fourth attempt. She named him Santosh, and she is contented with her lot. Rather she has a touch of badassery. She believes she is always right. To be fair, if proven wrong she is quick to say sorry.
One day, while dusting, she dropped my tab which was kept for charging. Firstly, she scolded me for keeping my tab there, and secondly, she declared, “From now on, I won’t dust this table. Nuksan ho jata!”
I pointed out in a mild tone that instead she could have said sorry and promised to be more careful. She immediately said, “Sorry, sorry – mai sorry bolti,” and is careful now. You have to set the tone with her like a dog trainer (bad joke?).
Rukma is very punctual – at exactly eleven a.m. she enters the house with “May I come in, madam?” You are expected to keep the door unlocked to save her time – she does not want to waste her precious time waiting for you to open the door.
Immediately, she will wash her hands and sit down on the floor to slice onions, ginger, etc. You are expected to give her a bottle of water and a cup of kadak black tea with three spoons of sugar (you know, sugar is bad for health and she takes less sugar!) which is her fuel.
Then her opening comment would be, “Have you seen the ‘tatus’ of my daughter?” And she will describe in detail how her daughter had cooked butter paneer the previous evening and clicked the picture for WhatsApp status, or whatever is the news of Rukma’s day.
Had Rukma been born before Virginia Woolf, she would have been credited with discovering the stream of consciousness narrative mode. She freely expresses the thoughts and feelings which pass through her mind while she is working with her hands.
Her interior monologue is vocal and has a voice. She always starts her narration without any preamble. This time while kneading the flour, she started in a Marwari accent, “Tharo sawal koi nai, Rukma! Ikkis baras bhaya thanu kaam karate karte! Rukma tharo sawal koi nai.”
“Kai hooa mummy ? Saaf saaf bolo na. Kai hua?” is in her own voice.
“Teno bhabhi nahi bataya?”
“Arrey nahi bataya, tey bata dey,” is again in her own voice.
It was my cue to ask her, “What happened?”
Let me give a little background. Rukma works in a Marwari household. She has been working there for the last twenty-one years and addresses the woman of the house as Mummy.
What I have gathered from Rukma’s monologues is that during these two decades Mummy has acquired two DILs.
That day, Mummy’s two fat gold bangles had gone missing. Rukma, mind you, is always the heroine of her narrative – smart, having a sterling character, offering solutions.
How many times during the years had she told Mummy to be careful. Once Mummy had left her diamond rings on the washbasin and Rukma had returned them to her. You see, not everyone is Rukma!
It is Diwali time. They have hired a boy to clean on daily wages. The sweeper also came to clean the bathrooms and toilets. Rukma does the sweeping and mopping and has access to the whole house.
Mummy remembered that she had taken out the bangles before bathing. Where did she keep them – in the bathroom or the living room – she did not remember.
So, the first doubt goes to the daily wage earner, Vijay, who had been cleaning the kitchen and pantry for the last three days. He was asked if he had taken the bangles. He denied having taken anything. Mummy’s youngest son, Mohan, told his mother, “You cannot accuse anyone without proof.”
The next in line was the sweeper, Geeta. She has been working there for one year. The house has two floors and four bathrooms. Geeta got very annoyed, “What will I do with your two bangles? Sell them and get two-three lakhs? How long will it last for my family? I work in five houses in the area – why would I lose my reputation? I need my salary to run my house, to educate my children. No, thank you – I did not take your bangles.”
Rukma advised Mummy, “Call the police. Police kay danday sach nikalwa lenge. Give my name also.” The family did not call the police. They did not sack Vijay and Geeta.
Their live-in servant had gone to his native village in Rajasthan on his annual leave and they needed these workers. Every day Rukma would come with a new episode of the serial Gold Bangles.
“Today, Mummy said to Vijay that she would give him one thousand rupees reward if he would return the bangles. Vedaa hai kya woh! If he has taken why would he return them?”
Or, “Mummy again asked Geeta to return the bangles. Brazen Geeta raised her voice and threatened to leave the job. Elders should not be insulted like this. They should be respected.”
Our straightforward Rukma again insisted that the family should call the police. “Mera nam bhee dena.”
Then there will be reminiscences of how she had seen Mohan grow from a small boy to a man. How when Mohan had gotten married and there were so many gifts of gold and silver, Mummy had locked the door of the room. She and Rukma had made the inventory of the gifts and placed them safely.
Mohan, over the years, had expanded the business. Bapujee passed away. Rajan, the elder son, was no good. Mohan, the good son, had polio but Mummy always doted on the good-looking, good-for-nothing Rajan.
Mummy herself was very beautiful till now and always asks Rukma what color she should wear. Mohan had moved the family from a small flat to a bungalow; Mohan had bought a smaller bungalow in their lane for that nikhatoo Rajan, too.
Mohan’s wife helped him to run the business and they always had a lot of cash in the house. And in nutshell, Mohan refused to file a police report.
One day, Rukma said to me, “Bhabhi, do they want to find their bangles or not? Panch tola ka hai. If they want to find, why don’t they call the police?”
I answered, “They must be thinking yet,” and silently smirked that they don’t want to show their door to the wolf. Given the reputation that the police have, maybe this businessman thinks two bangles of gold are nothing.
Diwali was over; Rukma’s tale had had no definite ending. One day she said in a confidential tone, “I told the younger Bhabhi, I know where the bangles have gone.”
I was surprised, “Really? Where? Who has taken them?”
“No one.” And she explained, “Arrey Bhabhi, I know Mummy dil ki bahut achi hai. Rajan does not earn and gambles also. His wife is a teacher. They have two kids. Whenever Mohan’s wife is not at home, Mummy quickly packs dal, rice, almonds, etc., whatever she can lay her hands on, and gives it to Rajan’s family. The younger Bhabhi bhee bahut acchi hai. She pretends she hasn’t noticed anything.
“So, I told the younger bhabhi that Mummy must have given the bangles to Rajan. Udhari jyada ho gai hogi.”
Bhabhi said, “Hush, Rukma, don’t repeat this before anyone.”
She and her husband too had reached the same conclusion but had let the mother think that they knew nothing and allowed her to go on with her drama with the other two servants.
They did not want a showdown or shame her because they respected her, and blood is thicker than water, blah, blah. That is why they have not filed a police report.
Now Rukma, who so far had been the ardent fan of Mummy, swung to the other extreme, “Bhagwaan paap dega inko. We are poor but we should not be blamed for what we have not done. What was Vijay and Geeta’s fault? Unki aatma kitni dukhi hogi. And this scoundrel Rajan – because of him his otherwise pious mother is committing paap. Poor Mummy! Maa ka dil hai naa! One child so prosperous and the other poor!”
And she has become a lesser fan of Mummy.
I often wonder how I am being depicted in her narrative before the other bhabhis!
Adieu till the next tale arrives.
Image source: Flickr, for representational purposes only.
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