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A Talk With My Maid Servant, Shoma

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By Tanushri Banerjee:

Other than our family, there’s that one person who visits our home daily. She works around the house; cleaning and tiding it, washing clothes, cooking and doing other important chores of the house, and at the start of the month, she receives her wages for doing it all. Our very own housemaids. My housemaid’s name is “Shoma”. She’s one of those many poor Bangladeshi’s who’s migrated here to India in search of better employment and financial stableness. So while I fire away questions at her, she eyes me suspiciously but then answers them vividly;

Me: Where exactly is it that you live?

Shoma: Ashok Nagar. Its where all of us (domestic helps) live.

Me: And what are the conditions there? (I’ve crossed that place a lot of times and the one thing that Ashok Nagar boasts of, is filth. The stench there is so strong, it gets hard to breathe.) It’s not very clean, is it?

Shoma: (she gives a toothy smile) no it’s not clean. But I’ve lived there for two years now and the smell doesn’t bother me any more. It’s dirty, because there is big garbage dump there. So we can’t help it.

Me: But you shouldn’t live like that. It’s not healthy. (She looks at me confused as if I’m the strangest person alive) I mean, you’ll be prone to diseases all the time. No wonder half the time you are ill.

Shoma: What can I do?

Me: Complain, you complain to the govt officials!

Shoma: You mean police? No! No they will send us back to ‘desh’ (Bangladesh). How will I earn then? Who will come to work here?

She was getting irritated now. I quickly changed the subject.

Me: Okay tell me about other things. You get proper water and light facilities?

Shoma: Yes, yes. We do. We get water from 8 to 10 in the morning, and 7 to 8 in the evening. And light is a problem only in the summers, especially these days.

Me: Well monsoon is here. Is this time of the year difficult? Or the drainage is all right there?

Shoma: Oh no, every time it rains heavily, the water comes up till our shins and enters the house and wets everything. For days we are stuck with water in the streets and that stench from the garbage finally starts affecting us. A lot of us get sick too, but we’ve found some cheap doctors; they look after every ailing person there.

Me: how much do you earn in a month?

Shoma: I go to 6 houses in a day, so around Rs 6000 a month. My neighbor ‘Nita’ does 8 houses a day, and they pay her more. She gets around 8000 a month!

Me: And what does your husband do? You have kids? They go to school?

Shoma: My husband is a rickshaw puller. He earns somewhat like me, but he wastes a lot money on liquor. I, on the other hand, buy useful things. I just got a pressure cooker the other day. (She smiles) I mean, one of the wives at a house gave me a defected one; I used my money to get it repaired. So now it’s as well as new!

Me: and children?

Shoma: I have a daughter and two sons. One is a baby boy. But the elder son goes to school, he’s in 4th now. And my daughter goes to work at other houses.

Me: You didn’t send your daughter to school?

Shoma: She’s gone till fifth! What more will she study? And anyway, half the days her school used to declare a holiday. Now she earns for the family. And since I can’t be home, she looks after the baby boy and cooks and keeps the house clean. She’ll be old enough to get married in a year or two. No use of studying now. (She says matter of factly) I’m getting late. I have to go to another house now. (She looks at me as if I’ve bored her enough).

Me: Oh okay. Thank you for your time.

Shoma: Can you give me an umbrella? It’s raining outside. Otherwise I may get wet and then sick and would not be able to come to work then. (She grins)

I hand her an umbrella and she takes off!

Be it sun or rain, she very sincerely shows up early morning everyday to finish cleaning the house and making it spotless. So that in the hustle-bustle of the morning time, what with me getting ready for college, mum getting ready for her school and dad for the office, she adds to the frantic ruckus around the house by clanking the utensils and banging them into the dryer, or appearing from nowhere in every room I go with a dash load of filth, brushing it from side to side.

It’s true; their lives are riddled with poverty. But they seemed to have developed a habit of living in such conditions. They have become accustomed to those conditions and don’t seem to mind them much. They do earn enough to live a decent life, but no education and zero awareness makes it difficult for them to break out of the poverty bubble.


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