Monday, November 8, 2010

A SUITABLE BAI


I was sweating. Profusely. The clock read 8:27 a.m. I was forced out of bed to be greeted by the sight of my new maid: Lakshmibai Maheshwari Kolte. Age 52. Short, fat and round, she resembled an oversized pumpkin. With a face, whose propensity was to smile at anything being said, she was standing at my door looking very dignified and humble, clutching the ugly green broomstick. Still, I was left wondering as to how I had already taken an instant dislike for her.

Her initiation into the household needed my help, according to my mother. Hence, on a Sunday, when my mornings usually start at 12 p.m. and lunch is the ‘breakfast’ I was delegated the seemingly impossible task of guiding her around the house at this unearthly hour. My visible annoyance coupled with my ghostly fa├žade of messy hair however didn’t seem to perturb her; instead she seemed eager to engage in a conversation.

“Arre baby, aapka naam kya hai??!” she asked.

At 5ft 3 inches, I felt like a fully grown adult and nowhere close to a toddler, even though the word ‘baby’ struck a familiar chord. But by addressing me she managed to awaken me from my slumber and my wide-eyed, grumpy expressions soon transformed into a cheerful disposition as I decided to give in my name: Manjari.
“Manju bitiya, meri soni, meri baby…”, as she uttered these mutilated versions of my name, she laid her hands on my cheeks and held onto them like a carnivore clutching its prey.

Lakshmibai was the latest in the long line of kaamwaali bais, which included Sujata, Lakshmiamma, Kanta bai, Suman and Sheetal bai, to toil at my place. I liked each one of them very much except for this new entrant. Sujata was my favourite of the lot as she played ‘Doctor Doctor’ with me and got me to drink my chocolate Horlicks. I also liked Suman. She was nice but sometimes irritating as she always insisted that I play with her 9-year old son, Gajendra.

“Manju, tum aur Gajju khelo na…main usko kal lekar aati hoon. Chalega na?!” This was one of her zillion questions which remained unanswered till she left. Sheetal bai, another much liked maid, was a pakka Maharashtrian. This was unfortunate for Sheetal knew only Marathi and my mother knew only Hindi and hence, before each of them could understand what was spoken, there would be a flurry of hand and facial gestures. However, Lakshmibai seemed like a woman in her early seventies, with an astonishing quantity of wrinkles on her face and limbs. She had large ears that stuck out under wisps of stringy, coconut- oiled grey hair, and wore spectacles balanced precariously on her thin-pointed nose. Perhaps, coconut-oil was the only thing all my bais had in common.

Fortunately, after our brief exchange, my mother intervened and I was relieved of my responsibilities. But, this obnoxious lady was here to stay, as for two months she came every morning to sweep and mop, do the dishes and wash clothes. Her omnipresence in the early morning hours, was frustrating as she never failed to place my teddy bear in the dustbin while cleaning and also all the items on the floor would be generously arranged all over me while I was fast asleep and my disapproval had no effect on her- Door mat on my back as if it were a sauna belt, books on my pillow, the iron right in between my legs, and the Velcro bands to hold the curtains would inevitably make their way onto my hair such that I was left to remove them from the ruins of my hair, every single day. Two months of ridiculous behavior and I was convinced that very soon, I shall prove her unworthy of the position of honor she held. Luckily, she had her own set of vices which I had the privilege of having discovered. Hence, our ‘suitable bai’ had a long winding road ahead to prove her innocence for I was bent upon revealing her dark hidden secrets to the world. There began my mission, which I proudly refer to as the ‘Lakshmi bai-bye’ mission.

It all began on that fateful day when, I found her with my black-wallet in her hand. Hurriedly, she placed it back assuming that this ‘baby’ of a soul hadn’t spotted her in the process of flicking her hard-earned pocket money. But, I still hadn’t confirmed my suspicions. Over the week, purses and wallets were found to be open and with a lot of cash missing, we had to finally interrogate her. But, she vehemently denied all the allegations against her.

“Arre, madamji, ma kasam, maine chori nahin ki”, and tears were streaming down her cheeks. The ladies in the house were moved by her emotional outburst and hence, she was deemed innocent. But, I was still in the game.

My plan came into action the very next day- three Rs 100 notes were placed in strategic places around the house and every time she went anywhere close to them, I stood behind the curtains craning my neck inquisitively to see the thief on the prowl. But, much to my disappointment, the plan failed. Miss kleptomaniac refused to reveal her true identity- a true professional, I must say.

Help came in the form of Mahajan aunty, who otherwise was a recluse of a neighbour. Her voice- loud and hoarse - resounded through the MTNL phone as she described the mysterious disappearance of her belongings ever since Lakshmibai had entered the picture. On hearing this, a sense of realization seemed to have dawned upon my mother, who was starting to believe that our dear old housemaid wasn’t even close to being innocent.

At around 8am the next day, the entire family sat down to draft a plan to catch our beloved thief red-handed. Preethi pressure cooker was whistling away to glory in the background and the aromas from the kitchen were quite a distraction. 8:30-Lakshmibai makes a grand entry, clad in a fluorescent pink sari and with jasmine flowers adorning her grey strands of hair- for perhaps one last bravura performance and not realizing that the world was conspiring against her. She walked straight into the kitchen and disappeared into the store room for a considerably long amount of time. While we were all engrossed in ‘ideating’, the unimaginable happened.

Our most trusted, reliable pressure cooker blew its top and up went the lid, crashing into the ceiling. The most ridiculous sounds-swoosh,zzzzz, tantanantannn,-started emerging from the kitchen and hearing these, my mother, fearing nothing whatsoever, sprints into the scene of action and not realizing the wet rice strewn all over the floor, slips, slides and lands right into the kitchen cabinet open below. In the meantime, my dad, showing signs of grave concern, assumes the role of a superhero, and makes a swooping entry into the kitchen to save his better half. He is meted out the same treatment as he smoothly glides over the floor and with hands crying for help, he goes sliding into the store room. BANG! The door flies open and lo! Lakshmibehen stood there, dumbfound with a pouch containing gold bangles and cash worth 500 secure in her hands. She runs across the store room, out into the kitchen, and weehaaaa….slips, slides and her weight, garnering too much of friction, she stops and lands in the middle of the kitchen. The cherry on the cake was when the weight of the cooker, which was till then hovering somewhere in the air, made a clean landing on her head. Amidst all the hullabaloo, it was finally MISSION ACCOMPLISHED and indeed,

LAKSHMIBAI-BYE!!

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