Educating the Maidservant
by Nuggehalli Pankaja
(Bangalore, Karnataka, India)
“You should have been in the films, not sweeping-swapping”- I thought aloud soon after engaging her-the new maidservant. Her name was also modern, behaviour not that crude; How come she came to this field?
“I can scrimp and manage somehow within my husband’s income if only he stops drinking”-She sighed-“But he won’t stop-however much I beseech; There are young mouths to feed amma. How can I help working? And what other work can I get when I don’t know even the basic letters of our Kannada?
“You should have joined school when young,”I admonished.
“Yes amma, my mother wanted us daughters to be educated, but our father fell to drinking, and made heavy loans. All his ancestral lands, even house had to be sold. Finally he sold us sisters to worthless fellows…..my sisters are even more good-looking………”.
“And drunkards? The husbands?"-I persisted my cross-examination.
She hung her head, shame and rage visible on her countenance.
“And your children? Aren’t they going to school?”
“No amma,they are not interested. Can’t afford the fees also….If only their father had a little sense of responsibility………………”
The unfinished words hung in the air……I could understand; The miserable atmosphere was slowly perverting their personalities also; The insidious frustration would make them also drunkards-shady characters in the long run, resulting as bane of future generation………..What a vicious circle!
“Yes, two boys though small, have started working in hotels”-She answered my silent question,“but the father takes away their earnings also for drinking……………”
“Tries to, but I refuse….so fights.. then…beats me in front of kids….Poor beings…..they simply shudder with fright at the very sound of their father’s footsteps………………….”
A couple of years later, that maidservant died-in childbirth. The man remarried…………..had more children.
And the elder children? On their own? At that tender age?
I can still hear her explanation when advised against further child-births - “Yes amma,you are right-my health is also breaking down…more mouths to feed is no joke, but what can I do? My man…..he is against birth-control of any sort. Says,more children mean
more earning members;And..amma!”—
Never never can I erase from my memory her shudder of horror-“You live in a big house so can’t understand my misery when he grabs me in our one room-tenement. “Are the kids really asleep? Will the dark really shield their innocence?”……these questions arise, but am helpless; He is always threatening to bring another woman into our home if I don’t respond………………..”
Eventually that’s what happened! Oh Lila, may your ghost haunt him like anything!
A string of maid-servants have filed past me since, all more or less in the same boat due to illiteracy……Recently, an incident occurred, recollecting which I know not whether to laugh or cry.
Saraswati-her name; Alas, education made a halt with that name; Once again, the same pathetic story-husband drunkard, half of his salary went towards it. she had to supplement it by earning this way.
“What better work can a dunce like me find amma?”-Her anguished words seared my heart.
“I am working mainly to pay for my son’s education……yes amma, fighting opposition from all quarters, I have put him to school”- This next sentence induced respect and admiration.
Here was a typical mother!
One day she came home excited-“Amma,a kind madam has opened free classes in our locality! Many are joining, but amma,how can I go? The class is in the noon……”
“You needn’t come for noon-work, still, I will pay you full salary”- I told her generously, and dangled a red carrot-“Learn quickly, and I will present you a foreign saree………:
That did it! She enrolled; Displayed proudly the elegant schoolbag presented to all the elderly students as incentive. For a time reported regularly her progress……then suddenly lull!
I noticed the schoolbag(given by teacher) turning into a market-bag; suspicious, confronted her.
Evasive at first, admitted-“I no longer attend classes amma…..can’t find time……….”
“Why? I gave you half-day with full-pay! What do you do then? Gossip?”
“I work in another flat amma…….they pay me well; I need the extra money amma; He….he drinks more now……….” Tumbled out the faltering words……………….. ****