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Friday, January 22, 2010

Servant Girl

Original in Telugu by:
Tripuraneni Gopichand

Translator: GRK Murty

By today, it is two years since I joined this house. I have been sweeping the house and the yard, and washing the dishes. In free time I babysit their children. I also attend to many other domestic chores such as heating water etc. If my madam was busy otherwise I even cut vegetables for her. To tell the truth, there was no work in this house that I haven’t done. 

I am quite an able worker. Even when asked for doing work beyond what was agreed upon, I never said, “We haven’t talked of this when we started”; nor have I ever felt that way. Used to do them as any other work. For doing all this plus washing clothes, they gave me food in the morning and paid eight rupees. At sharp 7 o’clock in the morning I used to go for work. After completing the morning chores, I babysit the children. By 10 a.m., master used to have his lunch and go to the office. The children too would have their meal by the same time and go to school, while the two tiny toddlers remained at home. After the master had gone, while I took care of the kids, madam would have her bath and putting on fresh clothes, would sit for lunch. By the time she finished her lunch and called me for food, it would be 1 o’clock. Of course, in the beginning, it didn’t matter much to me. But I did feel hungry since the clock ticked 9. What then? I never felt like eating something or the other the moment I felt hungry. It’s OK if I am hungry. After all, it happens always! And it’s OK if I sat pulling legs closer to the belly.

If they are eating snacks before me even when I am hungry, I never felt that I too should eat something. However, as the days rolled on, my perception changed. Whenever they ate, I too felt like eating. What could be the cause for this change, how did it come upon! I can’t say.

By the time I finished my work in this house and went home, it would never be before 8 in the night. Yet, my mother would not be home. My mother worked in a big house. By the time all of them finished dinner in that house, it would be around 10 o’clock. She would then come home carrying their leftover food. In the meanwhile, I would wash the earthen pots, and cook rice myself. After eating it with red chilli powder, I would lie down. At times, if I could not hold back the urge to sleep, no sooner had I arrived home than I would lie down and sleep. After returning home, if she had brought any food from that house, my mother would wake me up and feed me with two fistfuls of rice; otherwise nothing. She too, would lie down by my side by spreading the hem of her sari.

Next morning, getting up at 5, mother would wake me up and go for her work. I would sweep the house, clean the pots and by 7 would go to the house in which I work. At times, getting up when my mother wakes me up, after she leaves, I used to sleep again. Might wake up by around 8 o’clock. My heart would tremble then. Hurriedly, I would rush for work. And there would be no point in explaining my late coming to the mistress of the house. If I had said, “no sooner did I wake up in the morning, the whole body crackled—could not get up”, would she listen? Would she keep quiet, if I say, “I slept over, but I don’t know why I slept over”. “Who do you think will do all this work, your grandpa?” she would say. “Look, how the house is—who do you think would take care of the kids, your abba[1]! This way it won’t work, don’t come from tomorrow onwards. We shall look for another servant girl. You think, we won’t get maidservants? Or, do you think we hired you ’cause we haven’t got anyone else?” She would thus scold me in many ways. Whatever she said, I would remain silent. For, I felt it was my mistake, promised to come at 7, but could not. What is the use of blaming anybody?  Whatever she might say, head bent, I would carry on with my work. Even that became a crime. “Why dumbfounded, why don’t you reply?” the mistress of the house would shout at me. “It’s all like raindrops on a he-buffalo[2], she would say. “Street smart. Keep everything to yourself, and do whatever you want to.” I used to think: “OK! It’s my fault.”  But slowly my perception changed … I felt like giving her back. I cannot, however, cite the reason for this change, nor could say why it happened.

Ever since this change dawned in me, many new thoughts started stirring up in my mind. Wherefrom have they come! Where were they all along! As ordered by the mistress of the house I used to carry the breakfast to the master. Seeing it, I too would feel like eating it. In the beginning, the curries of that house were not to my taste! Rice with my regular chutney was the tastiest. Despite eating food there, after going home I would feel like eating my usual rice with chutney. Would eat too. Now, I have recognized the taste of curries. When madam is cooking them, my mouth watered. Although it was not agreed upon at the time of my joining to feed me with all this stuff, I used to wonder why my madam wasn’t that kind enough.

I am young. I have been seeing all these varieties of eatables, and have I not also served them to all those who are supposed to eat! Why didn’t my madam think that I too would feel like eating them! What if a little was given to me too! All that was given to the children, anyway, would not be eaten properly. They would stir it, play with it, spill it and ultimately strow more than half of it around the plate. Finally, I had to collect all that to throw into the garbage bin. I had to wash all those plates. How would I feel then? No  wonder if it engendered hatred in me! It could as well be thrown out, but not fed to me. It never appeared to have struck to the mistress of the house’s mind that I too would love to eat, and instead of throwing, it could be given to me. In fact—what did she think of me? It didn’t appear that I ever struck to her as a human being. How was I to make her believe that I too am a human being?      
As I was thus grieving, she would call me somewhere around 1 o’clock to say, “carry away the food and eat.” And what food was it—the leftover of last night! In it, there might be a little leftover pulusu[3] of last night!  Before that I had carried to everybody in the house freshly cooked Upma, Iddli[4]. Served curries and pulusu seasoned in ghee to all of them.  They had left half of it in their plates. I had thrown it all in the garbage. Holding my hunger silently till 1 o’clock, finally when I sat down to eat, all I had was last night’s food! The leftover after every one had eaten! The food that was sloppy! Seeing that food, my eyes would well up. What would my mistress lose had she given even this food no sooner had I come? Is it after eating their breakfast and finishing their lunch that they give me that food? What would my mistress lose if she had given it earlier? Even if they finished their lunch earlier, I must wait for my food up to 1 o’clock. If she found it difficult to drag that far, she might even wink for a while. Why all this?

Not being able to put up with it, one day I asked the mistress of the house: “I am feeling hungry. Give me food first.” Enraged at it, she yelled at once: “How arrogant you are? Are we to feed you before we eat? Eating our food you have fattened, acquired pride of flesh! I will not let you stay even for a minute. Get out from here.” Thus she drove me out from the house.
Dragging my feet, I came to my hut. I wondered how sleep overtook me, but lying on the floor, I slept like a log. Coming home sometime in the night, my mother woke me up. I narrated to her what all happened. My mother got wild at me: “Curse upon you! Instead of eating whenever they feed, why this questioning! Want them feed you along with them?  My labor is not enough to eke out a living for myself. How then am I to feed you?” Yelling, “die… die…” she battered me. Tired of beating, she wept at once … hugging me ….. saying, “Why doesn’t god take away people like us,” she cried her heart out. 

[1] Your Abba —your father, used in a despicable sense to the servant and her father as well.
[2] “It’s all like raindrops on a he-buffalo”— a proverb meant to indicate that the person is as insensitive as    the he-buffelo, a thick skinned animal, to the rain drops.
[3] Pulusu— a local liquid preparation eaten along with cooked rice.
[4] Upma, Iddli— local eateries, mostly taken as breakfast.


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