“Hello mummy. Yes, I am good. You won’t believe what happened today,” Divya immediately gave a call to her mother in law after the domestic help, Reeta left in the morning.
“What happened?” Divya’s mother in law asked.
“I saw her laughing for the first time today. Can you believe it? Forget smiling, she was laughing and it reflected in her eyes today.”
Divya’s happiness had no bounds today as she saw her maid laughing. After having done the daily house errands, Reeta didn’t immediately leave today. Instead, she decided to stand there and talk to Divya for some time. May be, she wanted to pour her heart out today, which she seldom did.
Divya remembers that once Reeta came in the noon to clean the house utensils. Divya had asked her if she had eaten anything since morning. Reeta said a sad ‘no.’ Divya was appalled at her answer.
Every morning Reeta came at around 8 a.m. and then again at 3 p.m. for their domestic errands. Her extremely petite figurine was already a matter of concern to Divya from day 1. Sometimes she even doubted whether she would be able to continue work with them or not.
When she heard that Reeta hadn’t eaten anything since morning she asked her why.
She didn’t answer directly. Instead, she started crying inconsolably. Divya held her hand and took her in the hall.
“What happened? Why are you crying?” Divya asked her.
“Didi, he beat me again today. With a rolling pin (belan). It hurts a lot didi. All I can do is crying all day.”
Divya didn’t know what to say. Seeing her expression of grief, Divya embraced her as Reeta kept crying in her arms. Her small body felt even littler.
“Come here and sit down. Eat something before you clean the utensils,” Divya told her.
“No didi. Leave it,” Reeta retaliated.
Divya shushed her and gave her chapatti and vegetable to eat with a glass of cold water. She kept crying with every bite. Seeing her, Divya’s eyes too started brimming and she went to another room to cry. Then she came back to her and asked, “What is your age?”
“17,” Reeta said.
Shocked, Divya couldn’t believe her. At such a tender age, she was not even eligible for marriage. She was a child. Divya thought of her cousins who were same age and felt utterly sad to think of the disparity that existed in two different strata of society.
Since that day, Divya had felt a special soft corner for her domestic help, as if she started seeing her cousins, her own younger sister in her.
Today, when she didn’t leave for home immediately, Divya asked her, “So, what will you do with your first salary that you get from here?”
“What salary didi? He said he will snatch it from me.”
“Why did you tell him? Why didn’t you tell him that you were getting lesser money from here?”
“Didi, he told me to swear on my mother and my sisters. I couldn’t lie,” Reeta answered innocently.
Divya couldn’t say anything more. But Reeta kept talking. Today, she was talking about her life. How she got married. Who married her off to this man and what she really felt about her life.
Then she looked at the photo-imprinted coffee mug of Divya’s husband and asked, “Didi, is that bhaiya, your husband?”
“Yes.” Divya smiled as she followed Reeta’s eyes in the direction of the coffee mug.
“Didi. I never look at bhaiya directly. When I mop floor, it is then that I look at this mug decorated on your TV trolley.”
Divya smiled at her innocence. Reeta smiled too.
“He looks exactly like aunti ji,” Reeta was referring to Divya’s mother in law.
After some time, Reeta laughed hard and said, “Didi, you know what. Once he came to beat me. I was just about to eat my food. I told him to let me eat and then he could beat me. Didi, he actually waited for me to eat.”
“…and then? He left?”
“No didi. I ate two bites and then he started beating me. It hurt really hard.” And Reeta started laughing, as if she had learnt to laugh off her life’s tragedy.
Divya too started laughing, but this domestic help had made her hate that man with all her heart.
The two women kept talking and laughing and then Reeta finally called it a day at her house, saying finally, “okay Didi, now I will leave. Bolt the door.”
Divya kept thinking about her beautiful smile after she left. Reeta was like any other normal Indian girl- beautiful and innocent 17 YO little girl who should be either in 12th or first year of her undergraduate programme, but here she was- a sad domestic help, who had learnt to smile with the tragedies of her life.