I brought this, Kamla said pointing to her bag. I peered inside. It held a cucumber, two tomatoes and a beetroot. ‘Is it okay?’, She asked. Though I was fuming inside, I said, ‘Perfect……for a salad’.
I am a journalist. And while reviewing a rehabilitation center I met Kamla. She was a victim of domestic violence. She had been beaten so wildly by her husband that she has lost one eye and her mental balance. The police had rescued her on a complaint of a neighbour on one of her husband’s beating sprees and she had been sent to the center. Now physically she was fine and the center did not know what to do with her.
I was in need of a maid. One who would cook, clean and provide companionship. I opted to take her on. Her husband was still in jail and there was no threat of him to come anytime and demand her presence. Her parents were in Jharkhand and neither were they interested to take her in their care. The center incharge was more than happy to hand Kamala over to me. it was fixed that I would pay Kamala a sum of Rs 1500 every month for her services. My meagre earnings did not allow me to give her more. I assured the incharge that I would open a Recurring deposit in her name and the amount would be paid into it. And then took her home.
The past two weeks has not been easy for me or her. Though I keep assuring her that she is safe here with me. She is perpetually in fear. The whistle of the pressure cooker, the doorbell, the ringtone of my mobile, anything can arouse fear in her and now I am so irritated with her fears that I want to go and beat the hell out of the man who is the reason of these fears. and yes she fears men too…any man. She is afraid of the watchman, the courier boy, the delivery man et all. Now how on earth can I substitute all these men with women.
I am lost in my thoughts when the mobile rings. I pick it up to hear the editor, ‘ Raksha are you my assistant’.
‘Yes’, I said wondering where the conversation is heading.
‘I sent a package to you, why didn’t you or your help open the door’, he says.
‘Boss, I just returned from the _____ assignment. …..’, I say.
‘What about your househelp’, he says and continues, ‘ Raksha don’t give me lame excuses. I had sent you a draft which needs urgent editing, now be here in another 30 minutes and pick it up personally’ and slams the phone.
‘Kamla’, I call out trying to be as calm as possible.
She comes and stands before me.
‘When I was not at home, did the doorbell ring?’ I ask.
She nods a yes.
‘Why didn’t you open the door’, I ask
‘Didi, I saw through the peep-hole, it was a big bald man with big moustache and so I did not open the door’, she says.
Kamla, it is Jagdish, he is the peon from my office and he has been here so many times, then why didn’t you open the door’, I scream losing my patience.
She looks at me with tears in her eyes . I leave the matter then and there and rush to go to the office.
‘Maid problems?’ a voice calls when I shut the main door. I move around to see my neighbour Latika.
‘Yes Latika, but I will speak to you later. Right now I have to rush to my office’, I say and run.
Later I call her from office and explain my woes.
‘Listen, she says, ‘I am free in the afternoons, how about me coaching her.’
‘Coaching on what?’, I say.
‘Hmm…life skills, respecting others, recognising good and bad etc…’, she said.
Will you do that Latika….’ I say.
‘For you … I will’, she says.
And from then on the afternoon sessions start.
In some days, I see subtle changes. she is less afraid of using the pressure cooker, she picks the mobile, yes she is still afraid of opening the door to strangers but I am confident that Latika’s coaching will cure her of this fear too.
‘Thanks a ton Latika, I see visible changes in Kamla now, I tell Latika when I meet her.
‘Oh, she is a lovely lady Raksha, she just needed some patience’, she says.
Kamla is now a better person, a much confident woman too. I can concentrate on my job and need not fear about leaving her alone at home. In addition I feel good that there is someone back at home. Yes, she is my family now.
I am relaxing in my balcony when Kamla comes and stands beside me. By her demeanor I can understand that she wants to tell something.
‘What is it, Kamla?’, I ask.
‘I will be quitting this place at the end of this month’, she says
‘Huh’, is all that I can say.
‘I am getting 500 more at the other place’, obviously she knows I can’t pay her more.
‘And yes give my RD passbook when I leave’, she adds.
And goes away.
‘Kamla’, I say finding my voice.
Yes’, she says.
‘Where are you joining’, I say in a faltering voice.
‘At Latika madams’ she says smilingly and walks away.