A maid’s smile
Gowtami is a young maid.One of four children, this 13-year-old has a hectic day.
She gets up early in the morning and goes to three houses (one of them being mine) to do the floors and clothes and then helps her mother cook and pack lunch and is off to school at 11. Back at 6 in the evening, she takes the kids of the memsahib in whose staff quarters they stay, to the park. Then, it’s time to help her mother cook and by 10 in the night, she’s so tired that she drops off to sleep in a crowded corner of their one-room chawl.
Despite this, I’ve never seen her frown; a cheerful shy smile lights up her face and she hums to herself as she goes about her chores.
One day, her usual smile was missing. I put it down to the bad weather but when I noticed the same look of dejection persisting, I decided to ask her the reason for it. “My mother has banned me from going to school” she cried, “I want to study. I want to become a typist and work in a big office. But now, my mother has put me on to full- time work in a house”. I felt sorry for the girl and promised to speak to her mother.
“Memsahib,” reasoned the mother when I asked her why she stopped Gowtami from studying “we are maids, and maids we will remain. If I send her to school, where will I get the money to fund her books, etc? She must also help her brothers to come up in life. It is more important to make them study than her. She is only a girl and has to be married soon. So why waste time in a school?” There was no way l could change her mind.
A month later, Gowtami, looking tired and defeated, announced that she would not be coming to work any more as she was getting married! At 13! I was shocked! The girl would become another breeding machine like her mother and the cycle would continue.
Again I came up against the mother’s down-to-earth reasoning. “If I don’t get her married now, no one will marry her. Our relatives will think there is some defect in her and later, even my other daughter will have a black mark on her name. Leave us to our fate memsahib. This is the life we know. It is better for us to continue like this”. Gowtami came with her husband, mechanic in a garage and touched my feet in farewell. One more sheep to the slaughter house, I thought, as I blessed her.
How is it we have no feasible solutions for the Gowtami’s of this society? You want to help, but they don’t want to be helped .A girl’s best well-wisher is her mother and if she decides what is good for her child, how can you interfere, however good your intentions?
Are we ‘memsahibs’ to blame for this situation, employing such young girls to do physically taxing jobs? If we don’t. Perhaps they will resort to beggary to fill the abnormally bulging bellies of their brood of siblings. We are at least providing them an honest means of survival. But where will this lead us?
Our only hope is in the very Gowtami’s who have been repressed. Perhaps, they will let their children step out of the boundaries which hemmed them. Perhaps they will visualise a better future for their progeney. Perhaps...