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Maid In India


By Ratna Manucha

I’m sure by now Alisha Chinai’s popular ditty is doing a little jig in your heads and you must be wondering why I got the spelling of ‘made’ wrong. Or maybe it’s a misprint?

Before your imagination goes into overdrive, stop right there. No, I haven’t got the spelling wrong. I’m talking about our very own ‘Kantabai’ – remember the one person in your life whom we can’t do without?

The person who determines our mood for the day? Am I going to be grumpy, irritable or sad? Or am I going to be chirpy and walk around trilling happily all day? Oh, it all depends on her…whether she comes in to work or not. I hear the hinges of the gate creak…I cock one ear and listen carefully. Nah, that’s not her. When she opens the gate, it has a very distinctive, assertive creak. This sound is more like an apologetic, squeaky creak. I slump back into my chair, dejected, disillusioned, disappointed. And if the magic hour has passed and no phone call either, I find my hand going to my phone yet again. Did the phone ring? Have I missed her call? Or has she messaged? Good heavens! Does she even know how to message?

My heart by now is beating like a drum gone out of control.

Why hasn’t she called? Did I say something to upset her? Or, Heavens forbid! Did Boss Man tick her off? Or did she have an argument with the gardener over the bougainvillea flowers scattered in the verandah? I find myself playing out yesterday’s events in my head. Was she looking happy when she left, or surly? By now I am a nail biting wreck and my thoughts are in overdrive.

Will she? Won’t she? Come today, that is. I almost start walking out to the garden to select a perfect rose (there are no daisies growing in my garden) and play the all familiar game we played as children by plucking its petals…will he, won’t he…kiss me (which now in hindsight seems so irrelevant…there are more important people in my world and Kantabai heads the list…in fact she bags numbers 1 to 10) then decide against it.

I can’t for the life of me remember how and when her existence became so inextricably linked to mine…the person for whom I would be willing to pick up cudgels if anyone spoke even one rude word to her…yes even Boss Man. Remember, I did say she is the most important person in my life… the others, well, they all come under ‘Persona Non Grata’! And boy, does she know it!

Is that a questioning look I see in your eyes? Are you asking me why can’t I be self reliant like people living in the United States, Europe or even Australia?  Well, let me ask you the same question. Can you? I rest my case.

They don’t keep waiting with one ear cocked to hear the doorbell…Oh, that’s the gardener, and now that’s my cleaning lady (Yes, that’s what they call their Kantabais). No time wasted waiting for the gardener to come so they can follow him around giving directions.  No sireee. You gotta pick up those scissor like things, whatever they’re called and get on with the job. Sickle? Scythe? Spade? SHEARS!! Come on! Chop, chop!

Finish the task today, tomorrow or the day after. It’s your bed, honey, you gotta make it, and you gotta lie on it… any which way!

So why can’t I be like that? It’s high time I changed myself. Yes, that’s what I’ll do! I’ll show her! No more dependence on her. I’m fit and healthy. I can work. Hah! But before I change over to the new me, should I just try and give her a call? Just once. Or better still, a missed call. Why should I call her? Maybe she’ll see my missed call and call me. Then I’ll have the upper hand. I can always remark nonchalantly “galti se lag gaya”, and then hear what she has to say.

And while my thoughts are churning around in my head like a mixer, I hear the familiar creak of the gate hinges. I heave a sigh of relief. I run to the door and then stop. I musn’t look too eager. Must act casual. No hugging, no groveling, and definitely no smiling.

“Compose yourself,” I admonish myself as I open the door for her. Is the relief showing on my face? I just stop short of hugging her.

Maybe I should postpone changing over to the new me for another day!

(Ratna Manucha is an award winning author of fact, fiction and text books for children and young adults. She has also worked as an announcer for All India Radio).