By Savitri Narayanan
“Hope madamji won’t shout at me,” thought Lakshmi as she dried her sari on the clothesline in her backyard, “She would be very upset especially as her friends were coming for tea.” Madamji loved cooking and having friends around. They took turns to host the party where they played games and had fun.
“There’ll be about a dozen of them coming, Lakshmi,” she had said, “Will make some burfi. Two or three coconuts to be grated, come early. No excuses, ok?”
Reciting the usual prayer, Lakshmi kick-started her two-wheeler and headed for Gita Colony.
On Friday night, Jabbo complained about an uneasy stomach. “Must be the aloo parantha! Drink some warm water and get back to sleep, you’ll be all right by morning” Lakshmi had said half asleep.
Married four years ago, Jabbo lived with her in-laws in Uttarkashi. A month ago, after a grand babyshower, she was escorted home for delivery.
Into her fifties, being a domestic helper in four houses drained Lakshmi of her energy. She set to work around seven and came home late afternoon. Then she worked in her backyard, weeding or watering. Usually, after an early dinner she hit the bed and slept like a log. “The due date is a month away,” she told herself as she slipped back to sleep.
But, in the morning, everything changed. Jabbo got really unwell. “She will need a caesarian section,” said the doctor at the Primary Health Centre, “Take her to the hospital now, no time to lose.”
So, Jabbo was admitted and the baby was born past midnight. Being premature, the infant was kept in an incubator. Next morning, neighbour Kamla Chachi offered to stay with Jabbo so that Lakshmi could get back to work.
“Hope madamji won’t be upset,” Lakshmi told herself as she parked her two-wheeler and rang the doorbell.
“All these maids are the same,” thought Meenal as she sat in the cane chair in the lawn and shelled the peas, “So unpredictable and unreliable! What stops her from making a phone call!”
Amisha was happy to play with her gardening toys pretending to help Ramuji who trimmed the hedges. Anoop was away on tour till Wednesday. “Enjoy pav bhaji with your friends but save my share,” he had said as he left for the airport.
“Hi! Meenal! How good to see you relaxing like this!” said neighbour Ameya as she walked in and settled on the chair across, “Was planning to go shopping with Smita but just now this maid calls to tell she’s not coming. Some pooja somewhere, there she goes and here I am mopping and chopping! What a shame! Need a cup of coffee to cheer up!”
“This is like a pillar complaining to a post,” laughed Meenal as she added sugar and extended the cup of coffee. “Lakshmi has disappeared for the past two days, not even a phone call! And here I am stuck to make samosas and burfi! Thank God, the other maid comes so I don’t have to sweep and swab.”
“Sorry madamji, forgive me I couldn’t even inform you,” breezed in Lakshmi. She respectfully touched their feet and said, “God blessed Jabbo with a baby girl! I have become a grandmother!”
“Samosas and coconut burfi, isn’t it?”She offered them the sweet and briskly turned to go to the kitchen.
“Lakshmi, wait”, Ameya signalled as she sipped her tea, “How’s your granddaughter? Whom does she look like? Jabbo? You?”
“God is kind madamji that both are ok! The baby is in a box but Jabbo is in the room. She’s on bed-rest so can’t leave her alone. Kamla chichi offered to stay with Jabbo till I finish cooking here and get back. How many samosas, madamji?” Lakshmi got up.
Soon the house came to life. Rooms were swept and swabbed, curtains were drawn, sofa covers were changed and fresh flowers were in the vases. Chopping, grinding, mixing, frying- delicious aroma wafted from the kitchen.
“Madamji, may I go now?”
Meenal had had her nap, freshened up and changed into her favourite pale yellow chiffon dress. The table was set and her friends would start walking in any time.
“Everything is ready, may I go now?”
“Can’t you wait for another hour? What’s the hurry?” Meenal was about to ask when Lakshmi continued, “Will come early tomorrow, promise; have to relieve Kamla chachi. Can’t afford to delay as she has to collect her cattle before sundown.”
“Mummy, Mummy,” Amisha entered the kitchen hugging her doll, “When will your friends come? When can we start the party? I am hungry!”
At that instant, time flowed fast-forward in her mind as Meenal imagined a grown-up Amisha holding her newborn baby. Then she would be a grandmother like Lakshmi. What a special occasion and how much she would fuss over Amisha and her baby!
“Here is a struggling widow fighting the odds to keep her space in life and here I am holding her back fussing over samosas!”, thought Meenal as she said, “Lakshmi, I will do the rest, you go home now! Jabbo must be waiting.”
She added an after-thought, “Let me know if the hospital bill is too much, ok?”