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Maid of honour
Time zones are not always determined by geography. Only a narrow road separates our homes yet when it's half past nine at my place, it's always just turning eight at hers. There's a perpetual ready apology on her lips and a smile that's bordering on a snigger, as if the whole idea of punctuality were ridiculous.
The excuses, of course, range from the mundane to the dramatically colourful. Once, for instance, she had to rush her neighbour's sister - who had been behaving strangely "probably because she was possessed" - to a black magic practitioner or a "bhagat". He demanded a bottle of perfume and a piece of lemon to drive away the evil spirits that his broom could not. She knew he had used a broom because she had been standing outside his room, an ear pressed against the door.
That's my maid, a 25-year-old mother of two, who is usually panting when I open the door. She has been heaving her way up and down twelve storeys for a while now in her bid to reduce post-pregnancy weight. She has even grudgingly given up rice by choice and taken up "tension" - a quality that she has heard aids quick weight loss. But she isn't satisfied with the results. Even dancing - something she has often sneaked off to a friend's place as a kid to indulge in before her strict father could return from work and spoil the fun - hasn't helped, she gripes. Clearly, however, she is only fishing for compliments as the dupatta that would earlier shield her protruding tummy like a sheer curtain, now hugs her waist like a belt.
On important occasions, such as Diwali and New Year, she turns up in a red sari and a puff-sleeved blouse. Recently, she said she purchased a "net sari", involuntarily prompting me to picture her deftly operating a laptop. "A net sari", she repeated. "Thin saree. " It has a shiny petticoat and a blouse that she has specifically ordered a deep-neck for. That will take care of her impending trip to Shirdi. She can go on for very long and often does. The topics range from nightmarish encounters in the common bathroom to creative ways of committing suicide. She knows someone in "Attar" jail and wants to visit the premises. When she's not talking to me, she's giggling on the phone or singing to herself.
It's amusing, though, how the frequency of her compliments tend to rise invariably towards the end of the month, close to pay day. She isn't impressed by my profession, though, and thinks I should consider being an "air-hostel" just like some friend's girl who would turn up in a "tip top" mini-skirt every day. She dreams of wearing jeans but fears her husband's wrath. Once, when she tried his trousers on, he made her regret the impulse. He is a tough, large man who works in a vada pao joint but is often mistaken for a cop. She prefers lying to him on occasions such as recently, when her phone conked off and she bought a new one for Rs 1300. "When my husband asked, I told him it was a used phone given to me by a madam, " she said.
In front of his daughter though, her tough, cop-like husband loses his aura of authority. She is often amazed at how a two-foot tall being is always able to get her way with this broad-chested father and even secretly relishes the feeling as if it were her vindication. He always returns with a bar of "Cadbury" to bribe the daughter whose tantrums he likes to laugh off at first and then pay heed to. This is why the maid wants to enroll her two-year-old daughter in an English medium as she is the smart one. An eighth class pass, she herself has only learnt the English alphabet but finds it tough to join them. Su. . per. . man, " she pretends to read the poster, but it's the picture above the word that she's actually reading. In her conversations, there have been hints of domestic abuse and her mother-in-law feels like a burden "unnecessarily". Of late, she has been deliberately washing utensils till 4 in the morning for fear of thieves who are known to enter through their corrugated roofs. Her ears are now sensitive to the slightest ruffle and her eyes are puffy. The police, however, wouldn't buy any of the residents' complaints or even eyewitness accounts. But her face, except for the grimace from climbing up twelve flights of stairs, does not bear any evidence of domestic trouble on purpose. "I don't like to celebrate my troubles, " says Sn, whose greetings feel like she has just emerged from a moral science lesson about golden words - "Hi, madam", "Sorry", "Thank You", "Have a nice day" and "Enjoy". And so, in return, I have moved to her time zone.
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