The door bell rings suddenly, insistently, shaking me out of my slumber and I walk bleary eyed to the door. The maid awaits, having managed to wake me after four attempts at the bell. Our morning alarm clock is late again. And I know that we will be rushing to office, running around desperately to catch an auto-wallah willing to take us the short distance to office, cursing the traffic, and generally doing what most Mumbaikars do in the morning.
“Why are u late today?”, I question querulously, “Don’t you know we have to get to office by 9, and can’t be waiting for you?”. She does not answer, just staggers around unsteadily while she attempts to sweep the house. I notice, and think for the umpteenth time that we need to get a new maid, this one seems to be getting worse by the day. But there just doesn’t seem to be the time to do anything nowadays. I rush to office, oblivious to any problems but my own.
Another day dawns, more leisurely this time. The bell wakes me up again. I even attempt a smile today, from the general good cheer of the weekend stretching ahead. I make some tea while she cuts the vegetables. Only when I am about to drink it, does it occur to me to offer her some. She becomes a human suddenly, just the same as me. A few questions and I learn her story. Married at 18, four kids already, and a drunk for a husband who beats her up regularly. The last time he had done that, she had had to go to hospital for a week and couldn’t walk properly after that. She still came to work anyway because she’s the only earning member now. Economic independence and women’s liberty. This is not what they mean, surely?
The door bell rings again. She seems terrified. “If it is my husband, tell him that I have left. Please. He will drag me home if he finds me here”. I open the door to find blood shot eyes. I smell the alcohol on his breath. I hold the door open an inch, and say she has left. He repeats the question, and I my answer. More irritably. Insistently. I slam the door shut on his face, wishing instead that I could give him a taste of his own medicine.
She smiles at me gratefully. We are allies now. Friends in a way. She may remain a terrible cook, and a sloppy worker. But she’s turned more into ‘Madhuri didi’ now, from being just ‘the maid’.