Experiencing the life of a domestic worker – just the usual half day in the life of your bai, didi, akka, kaku, maid
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4:30AM: I wake up, Nidhi and her papa look so peaceful when they’re sleeping- arm in arm, interlocked- a father-daughter bond, inseparable. I have been blessed with a husband- so understanding, he doesn’t drink, doesn’t hit me or Nidhi. I can’t let my eyes on them for long, there’s a lot to do! Yesterday’s rain was terrible- it caused a lot of leakage in our roof- oh, Nidhi ke Papa needs to be reminded to add those rainproof sheets- perhaps he can get it from the construction site he works at? Haan that would save some money!
5:00AM-7:30AM: This is when I am my busiest. I pray, I clean, wash clothes, do jhadu pocha, pack Nidhi’s father’s tiffin. But my favourite moment is when I sip chai- a bit of it is enough for me- to relax for the day’s work ahead.
7:30AM: I walk, and my pace depends on how late I am. Nidhi ke papa taught me how to read time, and I know that at seven-thirty is when I should leave the house to walk to the society, When the long hand is at 9, is when I quicken my pace, feet shuffling, rubbing against the dusty streets.
7:50AM: I get my entry done at the Green Vila society. This place seems like a different area of the shanties I live in- so clean, so breezy! The buildings are as high as our chances of getting a place like this- I chuckle silently at my fate, only to face the grim reality of it.
8:00AM: I enter my first workplace-R-1109. A week ago, Madam bought a new massage chair; her continuous laptop work was causing problems for her back. Chalo, maybe it will alleviate her problem. It looks like a magic chair to me!
Early into my work today, I realise, doing pocha (mopping) at four 3 BHKs has started to break my back. When I was in my 20s, it was easier. Sometimes, I wish that my workplace also had a chair, for my back pain. Seems like magic, no? A chair that would ease the back? But it is what it is- this is a part of the job. I can’t complain so much, if I keep thinking so much, who will do the job, the next flat’s Sahib yells if I am late. Chalo, jaldi karo.
9:30AM: I don’t have a favorite season. But I know I hate the summer months. While summer brings with it the scent of mangos and laughter of my children’s summer vacations, at work, I barely get by without a headache.
The heat in the kitchen, the walk in the sun from ghar to kaam, it wears me. Sometimes, I tell my Sir that my head hurts. He mentions to his Madam something in English and ends with “rubbish”- a word my daughter also picked up at school. I’ve stopped complaining now- what use is a bai if she cannot work in the kitchen during the summer? This is the flat I hate the most, they do a lot of “kich kich” (complaining). But this is the workplace where I earn the most. Yeh kaam zaruri hai, at P-1001
11:30AM: I walk to the flat where there’s a child, as young as Nidhi. She reminds me of my daughter whenever she holds my hands and asks me to come in. Nidhi rarely holds my hands now- she says she’s grown up and doesn’t need to. When we were in the village, I would apply oil to my palms, as I would gently massage her hair. Ever since we got to the city, for work, in one year, my hands have become rugged, rough, devoid of the tenderness of a mother. Maybe it’s the high-tech, ultra while detergent they show in the TV.
It’s a part of living in a city, of being able to afford her education, I tell myself. Madam from Q-308 is kind to allow me to wash the clothes, even though I don’t belong to her caste. It’s almost time for me to pick Nidhi from her school.
12:15PM: On my way back home, I can’t help but think of my future- Nidhi will go to school, will continue her education, I resolve. I don’t mind working for her, I know life has no respite for me, even when I will be old. That’s my reality.
But what will I do when I am old- there is no room for a bai who is old and doesn’t have limbs that function. I can barely talk to men, negotiate my salary, I don’t know anything else!
12:25PM: I used to go shopping with P-308 wali Madam when Baby was small. It was fun to go to those malls, with nice tiles. Baby used to play with me as Sir and Madam would shop. Sometimes it would get difficult to control the baby, while I would also need to hold the bags.
I never felt comfortable in those malls, something told me I didn’t belong here. As much as I loved those malls, a part of me is glad that duty is now done by Sarita.
12:30PM: Oh no, I see a policeman. I forgot my mask. I hope they don’t catch me. I have my pallu, I will use it if need be. This corona has caused havoc in our lives. Sarita, my best friend had to take up a job with Madam. Her husband passed away because of a liver problem. To support their family, Sarita encouraged Bittu to help her with running the house.
Says Sarita ” School baad mein chala jayega, ghar par iski zarurat hai” (He can go to school later, I need him to run the home right now” “Bittu ko wapas school bhej dungi jab sab theek hojayega.” (I will send him to school once things are okay for us)
Something tells me that Bittu may not go back to school. School. School. Kaha kho gayi main, (where am I lost?) Nidhi must be waiting outside her school!