The maid, L is about four feet and a little something tall, a stick figure who looks like she's studying in school. She however,has little clue how old she is, parents who could perhaps give her a vague idea are no more and a marriage to a unemployed, uninterested-in-working guy means that she brings in the money and does the looking after the household too. With three kids to support and overheads to pay, L works at eight houses (at the last update I took!) from 8.30 in the morning to about 1.30 in the afternoon, after which she turns the housewife -cooking, cleaning and swabbing her own hovel. Her time at my place is a brisk half an hour at the most, in which she clinically goes around doing her bit, rarely cracks a smile at anyone or acknowledges guests who might sometime drop by home. I want to ask her if she gets time to shower every day, but then I guess that's an inappropriate question, for she is not dirty or smelly. Just shabby!
My cook C on the other hand is made of pleasanter disposition. A thin tall woman, she is always impeccably dressed, has a serene smile and weighs her words like the ingredients she uses to cook food at home. She's been with us over six months and every other day my sister and I look at each other, in silent appreciation of the food that has been cooked for us. With both C and L, I share a courteous relationship. I am not one of those employers, who needs to breathe down their necks..I rarely interfere except when I have to pass on instructions or ask for something specific to be done. Just like other colleagues I work with, I start on the premise that they know their stuff and I just need to make my expectations from them clear at the very outset.
L is brash, prone to outbursts, which are kind of like a dormant volcano erupting into life, spewing lava. Imagine a completely dead pan face suddenly erupting with animation and the kind where the pitch is at the level where the glass wobbles a bit. She and I have a few clashes time and again. She has the knack of getting up to mischief, looking innocent till detected and then saying
"Aap hi ne toh bola karne ko!" (You told me to do this!)
"Par maine aisa karne ko kaha tha kya L" (Is this how I asked you to do it?)
"Ab maine jaan bujh ke toh nahin kiya, ho gaya.."( now I didn't decide to deliberately to commit this mishap)
" L awaaz pehle neeche karo" ( L, let's go easy on the decibels)
" Mein kya bol rahi hoon, aap hi toh daant-te rehte ho mujhe" ( What am I saying? you are the one scolding me)
"Maine awaaz neeche karke bolne ko kaha (I'm asking you to lower your tone while talking to me)
"Achcha baba, galti ho gayi, ab nahin karoongi" ( Ok, I'm sorry, I won't repeat it)
I have lost track of how many times we have this conversation every month! The result is nearly the same, she is upset for ten minutes, then it is like water off the duck's back. I rarely get my way completely, but then she is conscientious enough to remember to do something to please me to make up...An extra bout of dusting, sorting out the clothes that need to go for ironing etc.
C, on the other hand, rarely gives me any scope for criticism. Never a crib, never a complaint about having to cook on some days with hardly enough ingredients in the pantry. It's when she literally scrapes the bottom of the storage bins that she throws her hands up in askance!
L often tries to steer C into supporting the cause of the 'working class'. Like this morning, while I was already 'at work' and L was pottering around me, I saw a gecko -ugly, thin and mean looking, make its way across the door sill. We, sisters absolutely hate seeing any around and I shouted out to L to drive it away. Now if it was a reaction to my shout or my instruction, I'm kind of unclear, but L's shrill No took me quite aback. And out came the rapier tongue -
"Arre, mere se kya karwana chahte ho, mein nahin karti yeh sab!" (what is it you want me to do, I don't do all this!)
" L, uske jhaadu se bahar karo, ghar ke andar ghusne mat do"( L, just drive it out with the broom, don't let it enter the house)
" Arre maine bola na, usko choone ka nahin. Mujhe maarna nahin hai!" ( I told you once, you shouldn't disturb it, you want me to die?)
The shrillness and the outright No just made me see Red. I went in, picked up the broom and was shooing the lizard out of the open window, when she tried to come stop me, but gave up when she realised I was going to do it anyways! Once the lizard was out of the house, I turn to her and there she stood with her hands on her hips -
" Aapke pata hai usko bhagana nahin chahiye, woh sar pe girega toh khatam" (Do you know you shouldn't disturb it? If it falls on your head, then it is all over!)
"Kya khatam? L, yeh sab andhvishwas hai! Aise sab cheezon ko pakde rakhoge, har cheez se dar ke rehna hoga) ( What over? L, these are superstitions, if you keep believing these things, you will have to be scared of everything!)
L turns to C and asks her to intervene -
" Bolo didi ko ki yeh sab karna galat hai, kuch hoga toh phir unko kuch nahin, hamare paas kuch nahin hai baba" ( Tell her that these things are wrong, if something unfortunate happens, she has nothing to lose, we can't afford to take the risk!)
C, as usual kept her own counsel and kept stirring the contents of the pot bubbling at the stove!
By now, I was in my lecturing mode and L was in no mood to listen - kind of like, you stick to your modern views, I have too much to lose, I shall stay with my elders-tested wisdom!
After she left, I stood in the kitchen looking at C. Perhaps realising that I was staring at her, she turns around and says,
"Didi, uske cheekhne ka bura mat man-na. Hamare colony ke sab auratein aise hi hai. Chipkali girti hai toh bahut abshagun hota hai!" ( Don't take offense at her outburst. All the women in our colony behave like her. A gecko falling down is considered inauspicious)
" Tum log aisi cheezon ko pakadke chalte ho, isi liye toh itna andhvishwas bhara hai is desh mein" ( you people hold these beliefs so dear, that's why there are so many superstitions prevalent in this country!)
" Sahi hai didi, isi liye main chahti hoon ki meri ladkiyaan padh likh le. Hum toh aise hi nikle, par woh agar samajdhar nikle toh unke liye achcha! ( that's true, that is why I want my daughters to study. We ended up like this, but if they turn out wiser, good for them!)
And with that Mona Lisa smile which is her trademark, she went sealed the lid on that argument, turned off the stove, emptied the curry into a bowl, picked up her bag and said Bye for the day!