Rinku.. she was a maid at the paying guest accommodation I stayed at, in Mumbai. A mother of 20 years old boy and a 17 years old girl, one would guess her to be more than 40 years old herself but she looked nowhere more than 35. I assume she was married off quite early as per old Indian tradition.
Since I used to leave early for office everyday before she arrived, I used to usually see her only on weekends. Such a pleasant personality she is, I think had she been given the wings to fly, she should have been an airhostess rather. One may find it weird to be impressed by a maid but I have no qualms in admitting that I was impressed by her looks, the way she carried herself, the calmness in her ever present smile. She would drape a traditional saree on her tall dusky complexioned body and put a simple round red bindi on her forehead. The glow on her face is still a mystery that beats the make up, a lot of us wear.
Despite being elder to me, she used to call me ‘didi’ and do the laundry, cleaning and also cook breakfast for me on weekends. I remember admiring her lean tummy that was visible when she would tuck the end of her saree in her petticoat to be able to work faster, with no sign of stretch marks and asking her it is difficult to believe she delivered two kids. I pushed her to tell me her ‘secret’ so that I could use it when I get pregnant in future. And she said – ‘kuch nai didi, nariyal ka tel lagayi’. And I could easily believe that coconut oil is her secret formula as with her meagre monthly income, she could not be expected to spend on expensive creams and lotions. By the way, I can tell you now, it works!
She would put oil in my hair or give me a massage while we chat. I used to like talking to her as she was honest with no sign of greediness, an epitome of simplicity and a sweetheart for some reason. She wasn’t very open to me about her personal life and would not share any details until I specifically ask. Once during weekdays I heard from my landlady that Rinku was very upset today as her husband came home last night. And I was like – doesn’t he stay with her? And then I learnt that he is a drunkard who comes home whenever he falls short of money to buy liquor. He would beat her, snatch away her money and create a ruckus around her home stealing away all the peace she gathered in his absence.
Once I was having an extraordinarily happy day and I gave some money to Rinku (5 times of her monthly pay from me) and she was obviously surprised. At first she was hesitant to accept it but later she admitted- ‘I have been worried since morning how to pay the rent for my ‘kholi’ as I am out of money now and the due date for payment is approaching, you helped me big time didi’. I could see the truth beaming in her eyes.
In the meanwhile, I was getting closer to moving to Denmark and vacating my current accommodation. I really wanted to do something for Rinku before I left. I asked her once, what is the biggest concern in your life. Her straight answer was – ‘marrying off my daughter’.
She was handling this responsibility single handedly and had been trying to find a suitable match for over a year. The one who seemed suitable demanded a lot of dowry and the one whose demands were decent wasn’t a good match for her daughter. According to Rinku, the boy she liked had completed schooling (though not college) and thus was a good match. And if this was not enough, she had to find a boy in her community for her daughter in Bihar. I said just get her married to a nice guy in Mumbai and this way your daughter will also stay close to you. Do not give dowry. She exclaimed, “no didi, I will be boycotted from my community in that case, I can never do that“.
And after that I and Rinku discussed it couple of times as I tried to know the progress on her search. Unfortunately I could not budge her from her decision of getting her married daughter so early and as per customs of her village that included dowry.
As I look back, I regret for not being able to do anything for her. She surely touched my life and I think of her even now, after 5 years of leaving Mumbai.
Rinku’s life represents a majority of Indian women in rural areas as well as those who move to urban cities still living in the shackles of rural customs. Why are they so afraid of being boycotted? Why is it so important for them to blindly follow the age old unfair customs that put unnecessary pressure on a girl and her family? Why is that the parents are expected to give away their precious daughter to serve as a maid, work day and night in another family and with it also fulfill baseless demands of groom’s side?
I hope myself to be able to do something meaningful for women like these. For now, I just want her to stay in my mind as a reminder for my to-do-list in life.