The Regular Day
Work, work and only work, I couldn’t have been more tired that evening. The figures on the MIS reports looked like tiny ants creeping on the wall. I had even made a gaffe in that profit and loss statement. I got a firing from my boss “Look we want results, we need more savings, you are in Supply Chain, so learn negotiations, and else you know it will affect your INCREMENTS.” He turned around and continued making his reports to satisfy his boss.
Good, there is no need to learn, I should only make reports, the figures are important, the profit and loss statement, I need to prove my worth. On my way back to my cubicle I heard my colleagues speaking “Let’s go for a movie tonight and then let’s hit the bar”. I realized it was Friday. So actually I have lost count of days. I have been working like a slave since last three months without a break.
I rushed to the ladies washroom, I looked at myself in the mirror, I have developed dark circles under my eyes and looked no less than a necromancer. Splashing some water on my face, adjusting my circus costume which we need to wear from Monday to Friday I returned. It was 4.30PM, another two hours of making profit and loss statement, when I lifted my back pack.
“What’s up, let’s go for a movie” my colleague said
“No some emergency, I need to go” I lied
I knocked my boss’s cabin. “Yes, come in” he said without even looking at me
“Sir, I need to go, not feeling that good”, I lied for the last time
“See you on Monday, but finish your reports on the weekend, and take care of your health” he replied
How cool is that? I said I am unwell, but I still need to make my reports. Okay I will fetch you a fake medical report to you sir, that I promise I told myself. My rage was gradually taking an upward rise when I reached for my car.
Without even thinking twice I started the ignition, pressed the accelerator and hit the western express highway to Lonavala. The traffic up to Panvel was galling but the road got clearer after I crossed Khopoli.
Where do I go now? I thought. Fariyas is a better place. We had our grid management program there and the place is also safe. Fucking safety, for us women. We need to hide or else we are raped. I was en route to that five star resort Fariyas when that roadside Dhaba caught my eyes.
Damn it, I am hungry. Since morning I had gulped eleven cups of tea and have eaten nothing.
I stopped my car. I was barely able to walk given to the fact I was on my periods, I felt feeble. I settled on that creaky desk placed outside the dhaba. This place is actually a stopover for the truck drivers, transportes, I felt. I am a sophisticated female, and I dine in snazzy restaurant and now I am sitting among these unknowing faces whose agog glances are giving me an eerie feeling.
“Didi, kya leke aau aapke liye (Didi, what do I bring for you)?” I was staring at my feet when I heard that voice. A small boy may be just ten years old, shabbily dressed. The shorts he wore had holes so was his checkered shirt.
“Bring anything you have, just anything, no wait, do you have Misal Pav?” Flashing his yellow stained teeth he replied smiling “Yes, we made in the morning, we have leftovers, will just heat it for you, give me ten minutes” that little boy replied
“Wait, are you going to heat it in that oven, no ways, I will not allow, where is your mother?” I asked
“No no you sit, you will spoil your dress, I do that every day, Aai (Marathi meaning for mother) is at work, I run the dhaba with my Taii (Marathi meaning for elder sister)”
I looked around, that Taii must be around sixteen, she and this boy runs a roadside dhaba. Well, what if she gets raped. I was plotting to sheltering myself at Fariyas and these children are serving all categories of people. No they have no fear.
I suddenly felt like a martyr. I reached out to the oven and heated that Misal myself.
“You know to cook?” Both the siblings asked?
“Why do you ask so?” I replied tossing the Misal.
“The place where Aai goes, all leaves for work, so Aai cooks for them, they don’t cook” was their reply.
I finished heating that Misal and instead of landing on that bench I sat of that muddy ground with those children.
I glanced at my watch, it was 10.15 PM. Too late and I am exhausted to drive further to Fariyas.
“Can I spend the night with you, give me a Chatai (mattress) tonight I will stay with you all, and what time does your mother come?”
“Didi, are you serious, this place is not safe, it’s open and Aai has no fixed time, she comes anytime, sometimes even in the wee hours of morning” they shrieked.
I refused to leave. I just sat and watched them. The thatched roof, the leaking walls, the soiled floor, the place was dirty, not to my standard.
The Aai never returned that night. The scuttle at that dhaba was maximum in the midnight. It was haunted by truck drivers, drunkards, odd couple and many other queer strangers. Those children worked the whole night. Their tiny hands did not have the privilege to rest. There were lewd remarks thrown at that young teen and also to me. Some shoddy songs sung by those men asking us women to accompany them.
I watched that girl, trying her best to cover herself. Her budding breast, she looked careful. And me, I did not even have the privilege of a toilet to change my blood stained sanitary napkin.
I asked for one. The boy made a temporary arrangement by covering a little space with their Aai’s red saree matching my menstrual blood. There I changed my blood stained napkin and thousand questions flew my mind. What about that girl? Where does she change? Where is the mother? Where is the father? Are they lying to me?
I couldn’t sleep that night. They did give me a mattress and a grimy pillow but I was done with the mosquitoes. Those children didn’t sleep either. They worked and I stared. We didn’t realize when we had fallen asleep when there was a screeching sound by a female “Tumi zople aahet ka, tar laukar utha (you are sleeping, get up fast)”.
The mother had returned. Rubbing my eyes I glanced at my watch. It was 5.30AM. The fatigued children got up. The stunned mother looked at me and asked “Hee bai kaun aahe (who is this lady)?”
Those children explained about me to their mother. She looked at me, a pale woman almost my age, though she looked frayed, had wrinkles around her eyes, wore a nose ring, mangalsutra and those green bangles as a proof she was married.
Without even wasting a minute she took over the oven, baking the delicacies which her daughter did in the evening and also puffed a Bidi. The worn out children left for somewhere they were too busy getting ready to even talk to me.
It was already seven and I knew I had to leave when the mother spoke “Have some tea and Khadi biscuits”
The Lesson of Life
Handing me a steaming cup of tea she spoke “You must be wondering where I was the entire night and where did my children go. I work for a wealthy couple; I had to stay overnight to take care of their child as the couple had a weekend party. They paid me extra for my overtime. The child was scared and wept for the parents so I had no option but to stay back. My children just left for the Zilla Parishad School. I don’t want them to have a wretched life like me. I will leave for my work once they are back.”
She continued with her work. I had no words. I could not even ask for a toilet. All I could do was to hand her a two thousand rupee bill, she didn’t want to take it but I forced. I opened my back pack, I had my cosmetics, my lipstick, my kohl, my mascara, my shades. I gifted all to her. I had a book with me “War and Peace” by Leo Tolstoy. I gifted that book to her for those children. Rubbing my tears I left the place, I turned around. The mother was still watching me. I looked above; the Dhaba had a name “Om Shanti”.
I stood for a while, looked around, the greenery, I clicked photos of the lush green trees, the hills, the dhaba, the mother. I couldn’t click a photograph of those children.
I reached out for my car. Someone has scratched it. I didn’t care. It didn’t matter to me anymore.
I started the ignition and drove towards Lohagad. I just wanted to be alone with nature.
I knew I had to go back on Monday; I had to make my profit and loss report. I thought of that mother, those children, I forgot to ask about the father. I cared for my safety, I wanted to stay in a five star and that girl, she is much younger to me, what about her safety. It’s true for the mother as well. The night was scary but we survived. I survived just one night, but the girl and the mother will survive several nights. And that boy? What about him. What if he burns his tiny hands heating that Misal for customers? My doctor asks me to sleep eight hours a day and this family hardly slept for two hours.
I learned a lifetime lesson and here it is: CHEAP HOTEL AND BACK PACK IS ALL YOUR SOUL CRAVES FOR RATHER THAN BRIEFCASES AND FIVE STARS. THE DRIVER SEAT OF A LUXURY SEDAN DOESN’T GIVE A VIEW WHICH THE WINDOW SEAT OF A BUS DOES. IT’S FOOLISH TO COMPLAIN ABOUT LIFE, LET GO OF THE LUXURIES JUST LIVE A LIFE.