‘Where are the diwali sweet boxes?’
Rama bhai was asking as though askng for her rightful share in her parental property due for partition.
I was intimidated for a moment.
But soon gathered my senses to say..” We gave you two boxes Na..?”
She smiled and said…”so it was from all of you?”
“I though each one of you was going to give me a sweet box”
I tried hard to hide my irritation. My roommates had accidentally given her two sweet boxes. Each not knowing that the other had already gifted her. And now she was asking me for a third!!
We were five and that meant two of us remained to face the ordeal.
I pushed my bike’s kicker hard and accelerated away.
Ramabhai is the caretaker/dhobi/kitchen aid/babysitter of our housing society.
Her services were imposed on all whether they liked it or not, ofcourse at a nominal fee.
She had three plus one kid. Three already out to face the world and one on queue.
Her youngest kid is about three months and the eldest one is already doing her summers as bhai in a neighboring household.
Her family lives in a makeshift accommodation in the parking lot. From there she rules.
The door to this ‘house’ was always open and her kids could be seen playing all the time, except occasionally when it would be closed for conjugal bliss.
Her kids never went to school. And when asked why she said,” who will look after your homes when im gone?’
Puzzled I couldn’t reply…’My Kids” She said with pride.
There was always love and warmth in her eyes. Never the subjugation of a servant, but always the authority of a mother. I often wondered why this woman took so much care of everyone, why she scolded us…. Why she advised us…..who was she to do all this…..?
I could never accept her. Not because of the feudal difference, but because I hated intrusion into one’s personal life. She was always curious about my other life. About how much I got paid. About shi. About when we will get married. About her earrings and dresses. About what not….
She would be waiting with the day’s news whenever I rode in from office. About the kids, complaints about her husband, how her back ached and so on….
But yesterday she was not there.
And I dint bother to ask anyone. Because she was no one to me …or so I thought.
I watched TV, had food, read a little and lied down
I couldn’t sleep.
Where could she be? Did she go away? Without even telling me? Without demanding some money for her travel expenses? Did the Society secretary fire her? Or did she meet with some accident? And why did no one tell me that? Did her husband… Is she dead?
Ramabhai was bothering me.
My imagination stretched me to unknown extents. I dreamt of Ramabhai’s death, her kids being shown the door. I dreamt that Ramabhai had committed suicide. I dreamt our sweets boxes lying near her dead body
The calling bell awoke me.
It must be the newspaper boy. It was 9:30.Why was he so late today?
I opened the door.
“If I go to my mothers home for a day, does it mean that you keep your doors open. What happens if someone comes and takes your TV away? You will tell my name only, I know that….”
It was a miracle. I couldn’t control my happiness.
Ramabhai.! She was scolding us for not locking our door at night.
I smiled at her.
She was evidently angry and kept on speaking.
“Are you making fun of me? Do you think Im a fool?” She snapped at me
I smiled again.
“Mausi, you look beautiful when you are angry….ek chai banake denghe?” ***
She tried hard to remain angry. I was still smiling.
“ Kettle kaha he?” ****
She knew where it was…and was making tea soon, blabbering about the bus journey to her village and how indecent bus conductors nowadays are.
I have read somewhere that the people who matter most to us are not the rich or famous, not the known or the knowledgeable, but those who care for us, those who love us and think about us.
We may not overtly accept it. Nor may we acknowledge everybody’s love to us the first time.
But at some point in life, we will have to, because love is not bound by any barriers. Because it always hits you back like a boomerang.
Rama bhai was love.
*** Will you make a cup of tea?
**** where is the kettle?