(I always wanted to write a story, and could never pen down one. Here is my first feeble attempt )
Sharada woke up with a jerk. It took her few seconds to understand that the water tap was flowing with full capacity. She keeps the tap open in the night so that she can collect some water early in the morning.*
Sharada is tired. After the forceful last night, her husband is snoring loudly. There is no point in waking him up. Instead of fetching water, he may start again. Neither her mind nor her body is ready to take any more of it. But she fears that if she denies her body to him, he might go to other women. And who knows what he will bring with him! ‘After all I am married to him, so he is my owner’, she thinks bitterly.
She gets up and is able to collect just three buckets of water. Now, she has to wash clothes, cook food, wash utensils, and take bath….all of it in this limited water. She is feeling sleepy. But she has to go to work. Desai madam will get angry if she takes off today. It is Desai’s son’s birthday and lots of guests are coming. Sharada has been asked to work for few extra hours. She will get extra fifty rupees, which is necessary because there is nothing home to cook.
There is no Kerosene. Sharada cannot have even a cup of tea. And anyway, there is no sugar. She takes bath in half a bucket, keeps yesterdays left over roti and sabji for the husband, and sneaks away. She does not wake her husband fearing she would get beaten by him for not offering him tea.
When he is in good mood, he drops Sharada to the first housing complex she works. He has an old two wheeler. But yesterday, he came drunk. He will not wake up till ten. That means, Sharada will have to walk for half an hour today.
Sharada reaches the first home fifteen minutes late. Mrs. Mokashi is angry. She starts shouting at Sharada. Actually whole day, Mrs. Mokashi is at home, but she would not spare a delay of five minutes. Sharada knows that there is no point in explaining anything to her. Mrs. Mokashi just won’t listen.
As always the basin is full of utensils and left over food. Sharada wonders why they waste so much of food. The food is rotten now and has stinking smell. The bathroom is full of clothes to be washed. Mokashi madam follows Sharada at the nook and corner of the house and gives continuous instructions. If Sharada says something, Mrs. Mokashi starts anew. If Sharada doesn’t answer, Mrs. Mokashi repeats. Mrs. Mokashi is a difficult person. But sometimes she gives Sharada used sarees and shirts. In fact, Sharada had only those sarees for the last two years.
Next is Joshis. Sharada rings the doorbell and the man opens, smiling. Her heart sinks. She has forgotten that Joshi madam is not at home. Mrs. Joshi is out of town to see her sick mother and won’t be back for the next four days. This man is useless. He keeps watching Sharada. Couple of times, he tried to touch Sharada. Now looking at his shrewd smile, she realizes that even the daughter and son are not at home, they are in school. “I will come in the afternoon”, Sharada says loudly, so that the neighbors would listen. But Joshi is smart. He says, “Do you think I am free? Finish the work quickly. Children won’t open door for anyone in the afternoon.”
Sharada has to enter. She knows that this man is not good, but the madam is very kind. Mrs. Joshi does not know the true colors of her husband. Sometimes Sharada feels that there is not much difference in her life and Mrs. Joshi’s life. Except that Sharada is poor and Mrs. Joshi is rich; Sharada knows what a beast her man is, Mrs. Joshi does not know. Sharada feels for Mr. Joshi as she is as helpless as Sharada.
Sharada keeps the door fully open and talks with the neighbors from the kitchen window. She decides that from tomorrow, she will come to this house only in the afternoon. The man is trying to follow Sharada. She loudly asks him to sit in one place. Rani Madam opens her door too; it is just opposite to Joshis. Rani Madam talks to Sharada and to Mr. Joshi. That keeps the man quiet. Sharada is thankful to Rani.
Next is Rani Madam. She first gives Sharada tea and biscuits. Rani Madam is always very kind to Sharada.
Rani gives Sharada a paper and asks her to sign it. One of Rani’s friends is building an organization of house-maids. Rani Madam advices Sharada to become member of that organization and fight for rights of housemaid – which means good salary, paid holiday and bonus. Sharada envies Rani’s simple heart. Sharada thinks, ‘Rani Madam does not understand that there are many more women who are ready to work without these facilities. If I insist on terms and conditions, people will look for another maid. In the process I will loose whatever I am earning’. Sharada nods and does not argue. Rani gets frustrated with Sharada as she does not immediately fill the form. Rani thinks being a woman, she understands Sharada. But Sharada knows that Rani cannot imagine what hell Sharada goes through everyday.
On the way to next building, there are the police and their big dog. That means one more theft in the building. When it happens, people like Sharada are the first suspects. The police harass the poor. Clearly, those fifty rupees Sharada would be getting today from Desai Madam would go the pocket of these policemen. If Sharada declines to pay, they will unnecessary harass Sharada by visiting her home, sowing doubts in her husband’s mind, asking her to come to police chowki – that means taking leave. Sharada cannot afford to take off time from work. Mandabai is already searching for work; she would immediately take this opportunity. Now that the thefts in this society are becoming a routine, Sharada thinks that she can probably manage the police with just twenty five rupees.
Three more homes and it is already 12.00 by the time Sharada reaches Desai Madam. Mrs. Desai is fuming with anger because Sharada is an hour late. Sharada does not like to be shouted at but at the moment she is helpless. For Mrs. Desai may be it is a special day. But for Sharada, it is a routine. Birthday, wedding anniversary, naming ceremony, festival…. The occasions are different. They mean only an additional work for Sharada. It is true that she gets some extra bucks, but not without the hard labor she has to put into it.
Sharada cleans. Sharada washes. Sharada sweeps. Sharada helps in cooking. Sharada serves. She washes again. She helps. She works hard like a machine. Her mind rebels. Everybody is sitting, eating, laughing and enjoying. Life for them seems to be good. Just because they have money and Sharada does have not, they are treating Sharada like a dirt. Sharada feels angry towards the whole world. Sharada wanted to go to college and do a job. But she was married at the age of 16. Sharada is just 18, and has not yet forgotten those dreams which she once held near to her heart. Sharada feels like crying. But she knows she can’t.
By the time, it is all over; it is almost 5.00 in the evening. Now the guest will come, Sharada’s presence is not required by Mrs. Desai. Desai Madam repeatedly warns Sharada to come early tomorrow. Mrs. Desai conveniently forgets that has not offered any food to Sharada.
Except for tea and biscuits at Rani Madam, Sharada has consumed nothing during the day. She turns to go. She realizes that there is no kerosene at home and the police will be waiting on the way. Sharada has only a ten rupee note with her. She asks Desai Madam for the fifty rupees she has promised. Mrs. Desai feels hurt and starts shouting. Can’t Sharada trust her? Can Sharada not wait till tomorrow? Doesn’t Sharada understand that Mrs. Desai is busy with more important things?
Everybody in the house looks at Sharada as if she has committed some serious crime. Sharada gets frightened. She understands that if she says one more word, she will loose the job.
Sharada walks back. She is thinking about the empty kerosene bottle, about the empty pots in home. What will she cook today? How will she face her husband? He must be mad at her. After drinking, he always feels very hungry. Sharada knows that she has missed the evening water time. The shopkeeper is already asking for payment of the earlier purchases. He won’t give Sharada anything on credit now. What will Sharada do? Where will she go?
Sharada thinks, ‘after working for all day, if I do not have enough to eat and enough to sleep peacefully, what is the point in working?’ She is agitated.
Sharada thinks this city is a very stupid place. There is no well, no river where she can go and hide herself forever. There is no hill, from where she can jump. There are huge buildings, but Sharada won’t have entry into it. So, jumping from the top is also not possible.
Sharada has to live and carry on until she can.
Sharada feels hunger, homelessness, tiredness, helplessness, humiliation, fear, wretchedness, lifelessness …All in a Day’s Work!