A Maid Under Corona-Cloud
A Maid Under Corona-Cloud5 mins 269 5 mins 269
A March morning at a banker’s house in a suburban town.
The world is shaken with the spread of deadly, highly contagious coronavirus. Over one lakh fifty thousand people of different nationalities are reported to have been infected across the globe, and thousands have died in its wake. Countries have shut down malls, multiplexes, public gatherings. Checks, screenings, and quarantine facilities are being installed at airports, ports, borderlines. Citizens are warned about travelling to foreign countries. Schools, colleges, offices across the country are partially closed for a fortnight. Business houses order their servers to work from home. Even religious places are also closed to avoid the congregation.
People are scary. They prefer to be confined within four walls. Streets are deserted. Trains, buses are empty. The town is cheerless. Parks, tea shops and restaurants have a few visitors.
“Mala, go straight to the basin, take hand wash and clean hands first,” the mistress yawns and orders while unlocking the door.
“Madam, daily I do,” Mala retorts with a proud look.
She then fastens her sari and begins to lather hands, and the mistress standing like a stone watches her. “Soiled sari…dirty street…germs coated …” she mutters with a reproachful look.
“Soap hands well, take a good drop again. Leave your misery at home?” Mistress chides.
Mala washes hands thrice and then hurries to the washing place, takes dishes, plates, cups, saucepans, tumblers, etc. one by one and starts washing. Moon, a one-year healthy child, is nestled asleep in bed. A fan is slowly moving overhead.
The Lady of the house is in sportswear. She stretches legs, raises hands, spins body, lies long, and takes a deep breath.
Master is in a private bank. He is busy before the laptop. Today is a rose day! A huge project is fixed to be sanctioned. He is tensed and his eyes glued to the figures. “A large fish is waddling in the clean lake, the net is already cast. Only I have to tighten the noose,” the middle-aged, ruddy, master giggles and sips tea with sounds of elation.
A sneeze is heard in the wash place. It is so abrupt and unexpected. The banker miserably rubs the tip of his sharp nose. He is perturbed. Madam is wary. She runs to Mala.
“Are you suffering from a cold?” panicky she asks.
“No, madam. Yesterday I’m on fast and in the evening I take bath in the river,” she soberly says without turning her head.
“Oh, have you no kerchief? Haven’t you covered the mouth with hands?” Madam looks anxious and baffled.
“I never do,” Mala casually put.
“You poor folks have no sense! Don’t you know coronavirus is in our corner? One died in our neighboring state! Don’t you watch T.V.? Stand there. I give you a bucket of boiling water. Wash the utensils again.” She rapidly throws and hurries to the gizzard.
Mala works in seven houses. This is her first turn. One hour is allotted to each. If she is late other houses will burn. And the whole day will be series shows of abuse and harsh hail! Moreover here clothes remain to be washed. The floor is not mopped yet.
“Madam, I’m in a hurry. I can’t wash again,” Mala gathers courage and says.
“What? You sneeze! You spread germs! And am I to kill them?” shouts the madam in rage.
Mala wears a sad face, becomes subdued, fights with the dishes and hastily washes them again.
The meantime master has shut down his machine. He is readying for brush, shaves, and bath. Body, hairy, bear, a napkin tied around his round neck, he begins to brush. Then he gurgles for five minutes. When finished, he dictates Mala to carefully and slowly clean the corners, window sills, railings with Dettol-water.
Mala hears and nods without a word. She is sour. She thinks of the bad-tempered lone old man who will dance in a fire if she is late even by a minute.
After washing the dishes Mala starts to rinse a hill of saris, pajamas, pants, shirts, underwear, socks, curtains, pillow covers, bedsheets, etc. Her face is rained with hot sweat. She feels cold., Her lips parched. Her head reels.
“Mala, rinse collars of shirts charily. Your dada doesn’t like a soiled collar. Make it clean as snow.” Mistress demands. And next, she is seen sipping an energetic health drink, morning paper on tea table staring at her with a bold cap ‘Corona Virus Spreads Tentacles Across India; 114 Infected, Mask Unavailable.’
“Mala,” she briskly sides aside from the mug to the edge of the table and exhorts, “tomorrow you come with your mask.” It is taking shape of an epidemic. She cautiously flips the pages and she cannot believe her eyes. Pages after pages are filled with the same news of coronavirus and countries after countries are being affected afresh. It is 2020. Tremendous progress we have made in medical sciences. Madam strives to allay her fear by such positive thoughts. But next, she looks worried. Aged and children are most vulnerable. And her Moon is just a bundle of flesh! She rushes to her daughter’s bed and caresses her head with a humming.
Mala, however, is fatigued in brushing, rinsing, and wringing the clothes. Her lean hands and bow legs are in a soapy puddle. Madam’s warning has no bearings on her. The drudgery of the remaining six houses occupies her pathless spirit. Two nubile daughters at home! Husband drunkard! Disease and death cannot maim her limbs.