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“She hasn’t done anything to be dismissed from service. Her gender is not important to me; her capabilities are. I don’t think I can find another house help as trustworthy or reliable as her.”
The roseate dawn struggled to break through the bloated black clouds. The leaves rustled in the breeze as the roosters slept soundly in their sheds. The world was still dark outside the open window in the kitchen of the two-storey red and yellow building.
Inside the kitchen, Rama was hard at work. The forty-year-old live-in house help to the Kapoors was up earlier than usual. Apart from preparing breakfast and lunch for Mr Kapoor and his two school-going children, she was also making tea and a quick snack for her mistress, Daksha. The latter had an early morning flight to catch.
All four burners of the electric gas stove were occupied, and a tantalising aroma filled the room as Rama proudly inspected her work. Cooking has always been her strong forte – and her mistress’s nemesis – and she enjoyed the activity, no matter what day and hour.
“You are up so early today, Rama!” Rama turned around to find the five-foot-six Daksha staring at her wide-eyed.
“I won’t let you go to the airport on an empty stomach, Ma’am,” Rama responded. “The tea and snack are almost ready,” she declared, returning to her cooking.
Daksha smiled indulgently and settled into the tall chair on the other side of the countertop. A bleary and dreary morning had become pleasant.
Rama had come to the house ten years ago, at the birth of Daksha’s first son. Until then, the DINK Kapoor family was dependent on part-time helps to manage their household work. Realising that the arrangement wouldn’t be smooth after the resumption of her office, Daksha started to look for a full-time nanny for her son soon after his birth. Someone had referred Rama to her, and after getting over her initial hesitation, Daksha employed the oval-faced rotund-shaped Rama. The decision proved a godsend to the young and inexperienced mother, and she was a lot more relieved parent at the birth of her daughter three years later.
Good domestic staff was a luxury in Bengaluru, and Daksha didn’t want to let go of Rama even when her children grew up and didn’t require a nanny as much. So, she let go of her cook and gave Rama most of the housekeeping responsibilities.
Rama’s transition from a nanny to a house help was seamless. Every evening Daksha came home from work to find her house spic and span, laundry sorted, furniture dusted and the relaxed faces of her children. Daksha didn’t remember the last time she got stuck with a domestic hassle.
“Here’s your tea and some dhoklas, Ma’am,” Rama said, placing a tray in front of Daksha.
“Thank you for fixing these for me this early.”
“It’s my job, Ma’am,” Rama replied, flustered but secretly pleased. Daksha and her husband were the only ones who had employed her despite her predicament. After working here for a decade, she didn’t want to work elsewhere.
“Your Sir’s parents are coming later today evening,” Daksha said, munching on the dhoklas. “It was a sudden plan, and they will be here for about fifteen days. Do get the guest room ready and make sure they are comfortable in every way. I will be back in three days, not that it will make a difference with you around.”
An expressionless Rama nodded, but Daksha noticed the colour drain away from her face. Her in-laws had made their dislike for Rama blatantly evident in their annual visits; Daksha and her husband, Rajeev, always found themselves resolving one or the other complaints during these periods. And Rama was never the one who complained.
“I know the next few days are not going to be easy. We will try to ensure that you don’t have to interact with them much,” Daksha said, knowing it to be difficult. She and her husband would be here only in the evenings, and Rama would be the one dealing with the elderly couple for most of the day.
“Thank you, Ma’am. Have a safe flight,” Rama replied as Daksha finished her tea.
Daksha turned her back to Rama and headed out of the door. It was a pity that most people went by appearances and did not see Rama’s inner beauty.
The morning sun spread its benevolence all around. It was difficult to spot a patch of brown in the verdant garden. The cheerful leaves of the freshly watered plants glistened. Somewhere in the distance, a dog barked as Daksha rang the doorbell of her home. Returning after three days, she knew the quiet façade encompassed a storm within.
“When are you coming back, Daksha? It is unbearable this time. I am afraid poor Rama would faint someday from my parents’ taunts,” Rajeev had mentioned over the phone two days ago.
“Why don’t you try to reason with them, Rajeev?”
“Trust me, I have, to no avail.”
“What makes you think they will listen to me?”
“You have always managed these arguments well. I can’t argue with them beyond a point, but you can stand your ground.”
Daksha sighed and waited, feeling more tired than she had while wrapping up a demanding project.
The door opened to reveal a pale and anxious Rama standing before her. The latter’s eye sparkled when she saw Daksha. “You are back, Ma’am,” she said, relieved.
“How have you been, Rama?”
There was a slight hesitation before the house help replied, “I am fine, Ma’am.” Daksha knew it was against Rama’s nature to say anything against her employer’s parents to anyone, even her employers.
A voice rang out behind Rama’s back. “Where is my tea, Rama?” Daksha’s father-in-law asked in exasperation.
“Coming in two minutes, Uncleji,” Rama replied in a strained voice, walking towards the kitchen.
“I asked for it ages ago. Why is it taking so much time?”
“You must have been again putting your feet up on the sofa,” Daksha’s mother-in-law spoke from the opposite direction. “You don’t leave the slightest opportunity to sit on your employers’ furniture, don’t you?”
“She was, in fact, opening the door for me. No one else answered the doorbell,” Daksha interjected, walking across the living room corridor.
“Oh. You are back, Bahu,” her mother-in-law said.
Daksha touched the feet of both octogenarians.
“Jeeti raho,” the older woman said. “Good to see you. We were wondering if we would get to meet you during our stay this time.”
Daksha ignored the barb. “How are you, Mummyji, Papaji?”
“Couldn’t have been worse. Walked into the house without our bahu being there to meet us even though we had come after a year. Then, our son has no time for us and our grandchildren are busy with their own activities. To top it all, this wretched maid of yours is getting on our nerves,” her father-in-law said.
“Why, what happened, Papaji?”
“She doesn’t know how to cook for one,” he replied. “There was less salt in everything.”
“Hadn’t Mummyji instructed Rama to use less salt in the food because of your BP, the last time you were here?”
“She sits on your sofa, Bahu,” her mother-in-law hastily interjected. “I caught her yesterday lazing up there after she had cleaned the ceiling fan.”
“She must be resting for a while after the tiresome work.”
“Why does she have to sit on the sofa to rest? She is a maid, after all.”
“What’s wrong with a maid sitting on the sofa?” Daksha said.
“I also suspect she’s using the toilet in the children’s room,” her mother-in-law continued.
“We have told her to use that toilet during emergencies. Her room in the outhouse is pretty far away, and it becomes laborious to go there during housework, especially in the oppressive heat.”
“Radhe, Radhe! A maid using your toilet.”
“She is a human being first.”
“Enough, Bahu,” her father-in-law scowled. “It is bad enough that you have hired this impure woman and kept her here for this long. Now you are defending her misdeeds also.”
“Impure? Are you implying to her being a trans woman, Papaji?”
“Bahu!!” exclaimed the older woman. “How can you utter this word in front of us? No respect for elders!”
“I have immense respect for both of you, Mummyji. That’s why I want to understand what Rama has done to upset you so much. She is diligent, hardworking, trustworthy, dotes on the children and takes good care of the house. Rajeev told me she has been looking after you well in my absence. Yet as soon as I entered, I hear complaints from you.
“I genuinely want to understand the problem here. Has Rama been disrespectful and rude to either of you?”
“She is queer, Bahu. Your neighbours are horrified, and children make fun of her whenever they see her outside. She doesn’t deserve to work here,” the elderly lady remarked.
“Why not? Isn’t she a human first?” Daksha asked.
“We have to follow the norms of the society, bahu.”
“Which norms teach us not to treat our fellow human beings with dignity?”
“Enough of you taking the side of the wretched creature. This trans woman has to get out of the house. Dismiss her from service. Right now.”
Smash. The sound made the three turn toward the kitchen. A visibly upset Rama was gathering the broken pieces of tea cups in the alley that led to the living room from the kitchen.
“What a mess you have made, you clumsy creature. Who will pay for this exorbitance?” Daksha’s mother-in-law bellowed.
“I am sorry, Auntyji.”
Daksha wanted to go and comfort her but stood gaping at her in-laws instead. She had grown up seeing class distinctions and could understand the reservations and reluctance of the older generation in extending household amenities to the very staff that help maintain them. But the fact that otherwise competent people could be subjected to taunts and even dismissed from service because of their gender or orientation went over her head.
At the start of her career, she had witnessed the discrimination and ostracisation of people from the LGBTQIA community at her workplace. Things improved with time, with Pride Month being celebrated with much fanfare across corporate India. However, workplace policies would remain only on paper if the people working inside those glass buildings did not accept their fellow humans from the LGBTQIA community with open arms in their personal sphere.
While Daksha couldn’t change the world, she could certainly do her bit to make her home a truly inclusive space.
“Rama won’t leave, Papaji,” Daksha said, her voice resolute.
“What?” Her father-in-law was taken aback.
“Either Rama leaves this house, or we will,” her mother-in-law blustered.
“I didn’t say it, Mummyji. This house is yours, and it will be unfortunate if you decide to leave it for a petty matter. However, I will not make an innocent person suffer because of society’s prejudices. If you want, you can speak to Rajeev on this once he returns from work,” Daksha remarked and walked to the kitchen.
A tear-stained Rama looked at her gratefully. “I am sorry for the behaviour of my in-laws, Rama,” Daksha said. “Don’t be sorry, Ma’am. And thank you for not sacking me despite what they said,” Rama responded.
“I have not done you any favour, Rama. You deserve respect and dignity like the rest of us. Now, I am famished. Can you make something for me real quick?”
Rama nodded and promptly moved towards the gas as Daksha smiled. She wasn’t feeling happy about saying an outright no to her in-laws but was determined to stand up for what she believed was right.
Sunshine streamed through the kitchen window and bathed the hard-at-work Rama in its warm embrace as Daksha looked on. The world was a beautiful place, she thought.
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Image source: YouTube/ short film Sabak
Smita Das Jain is a writer by passion who writes every day. Samples of her writing are visible in the surroundings around her — her home office, her sunny terrace garden, her husband’s car and read more...
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Does Ranbir Kapoor expressing his preferences about Alia using lipstick really make him a toxic husband?
Sometime back, a video of Alia Bhatt with Vogue went viral where she shares her go-to make-up routine and her unique way to apply lipstick. It went viral not for the quirkiness but because she said that after applying the lipstick, she “rubs it off” because her then boyfriend and now husband – Ranbir Kapoor likes her natural lip colour and asks her to “wipe it off”, whenever they are out on a date night.
Netizens had gone crazy over this video, calling RK toxic and not respecting AB’s choice to wear makeup. I saw the video a couple of times to understand the reason behind the uproar but I failed to understand it. I read many comments and saw people saying that asking your partner or dictating terms on how they should wear makeup is a major sign to leave the person.
Modesty or humility is viewed as the hallmark of a well-brought-up girl, which makes it hard for us to be open to any real compliments without feeling like an imposter.
Why is accepting that compliment so hard?
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She (who spent the last five hours mopping and polishing): It could be tidier; there is just so much dust.
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