“Till you leave this place, I will take care of you. I’ll make sure you don’t miss your mother.” When a Bai introduces herself like this, she has more than a foot in the door, doesn’t she?
Sushila Bai is now my self-appointed guardian angel. She has a bad knee, because her drunken husband gave her an extra special beating once. She cannot kneel or squat to mop the floor, but somehow manages to do a decent job standing up. If I dissuade her from cleaning the house daily, since it is locked all the time, she insists I must not neglect the cleaning. Goddess Lakshmi does not come to a dirty house, she explains. Expenses.xls on my desktop tells me that I need divine help, so I succumb.
“I’ll cook Punjabi dal and chicken for you,” she said enthusiastically after running a background check on me. I informed her that I was a vegetarian, had never eaten Punjabi dal in my life, and preferred to cook for myself. She ran another background check, wondering what kind of a blot-on-Punjabihood I was.
“Are you married?” she asked me. She’d been working at my place for twenty days. No, I said, wondering if there were ghosts in my house that she saw and I did not. “Then why do you live alone?” Am yet to figure out the logic behind THAT one.
“After I finish working at your place, I go to work at Suresh Kalmadi’s house,” she once informed me. My egg-and-toast screeched to a halt on its journey down my throat. Turns out she works for his brother. Am honored, nonetheless.
“My son is a friend of the cable wallah. You will not need to pay 3000 for the connection. He will manage it in 600,” she offers. I am tempted.
Last morning she was late for work. Her drunken son met with an accident at 3 in the morning. It turned out that her breadwinning daughter-in-law had turned the unemployed wife-beater out of her house, and he was riding his bicycle “under a lot of tension.” Her “Sahib” (read drunken unemployed abusive husband) was in the hospital while she came to work. She was cheerful as usual. My horrified protests and comments fell on deaf ears.
She’s invited me for her niece’s wedding. I got a printed invitation card with my name on the envelope this morning. The diwali kandils that I finally pulled down last evening were promptly put into a plastic bag and taken to decorate her house. I can yell all I want about child marriage. She’s happy that the niece’s 17-year-old groom has a job.
There is so much this woman takes in her broken-kneed stride. Her grandma expired. Her son is in the hospital. Wedding preparations are on in her house. And she’s standing at the door with the newspaper in her hand at 7:30 every morning.