It was 9:30 AM on a Saturday morning. Maneesha was still in the process of waking up lazily, basking in the glory of not having to wake up to an alarm ringing off; as it was weekend. Saturday would be rest-day for her in terms of working out too, which meant no Yoga in the morning. Although 9:30 wasn’t really late for a weekend, but thanks to her morning yoga regime and office timings, Maneesha’s body clock had automatically been trained such that she couldn’t sleep till too late, even if there was no alarm!
She had returned late from a formal party following a conference the night before. So she would just be relaxing on Saturday. Rubbing her eyes, as she opened the door of her room, a garb of disappointment fell upon her as she realised the maid still hadn’t arrived; on observing the unwashed utensils lying in the sink.
“Is the maid coming today? Or is she going to bunk?” she asked Mita. Mita was her flatmate. Maneesha and Mita were staying on rent, in a 2 BHK flat in South Mumbai, each having her individual room. Mita had been staying there for long. Maneesha had moved in a few weeks ago as she had to vacate her earlier flat since her flatmate was moving out.
“Yes yes…I called her up,” Mita replied, sipping her morning tea,” she said she would come late. Her son has apparently fallen sick, so she has taken him to a doctor.”
“Aahh…the typical excuses,” brushed Maneesha off, as she opened the fridge to look for a quick bite to kill her hunger,” how old is her son, though?”
“She has a 6 month old baby boy,” Mita said, “so , yeah, till a year back it was her brother’s kids who used to fall sick whenever she needed leaves. Now there’s a new member for her.”, Mita chuckled.
Mita left soon to meet her friends. Maneesha settled down cosily on the sofa, with quickly made milk-cereal in one hand and turning the pages of newspaper with the other. There was some article on women empowerment in one of the first few pages. It had pictures and quotes of ladies who were high up in the corporate hierarchy, like MDs/ VPs of globally big firms. That reminded her, women empowerment formed a major topic even at Friday’s conference. There was a panel discussion on what the future road maps of various companies and sectors looked like, in terms of maintaining healthy gender ratio, and eradicating corporate biases.
Even there, some of the senior female managers had spoken. Maneesha had observed them with the keenness of a school kid……the way they spoke, the charisma of those women, the confidence that evoked from all the wisdom they had gained from their career journey. After all, she herself was at the beginning of a similar journey, and aimed for being one of those in the corporate sector in coming years, who newcomers would look up to as a role model! How else do you think empowered women are personified, right? And Maneesha was sure she was on the right track…with a focus on her career, fitness regimes and corporate awareness all going hand-in-hand. Maneesha’s chain of thoughts were broken as the door bell rang. The maid had finally arrived.
“What happened Lata di…why are you so late again, today?” Maneesha asked, slightly annoyed.
“What to do, Maneesha didi, “ the maid replied, wiping off the sweat on the forehead with the aanchal of her saari, “Chintu had been crying a lot since yesterday. So I had to take him to doctor. He has some stomach infection. I had to buy medicines, make him sleep and come.”
“Okay…what did the doctor say? How long will it take for the baby to be fine?” Maneesha asked
“Doctor said he should be okay after I give him medicines for six days,” Lata di said, “but he said if he still shows signs of stomach ache then he should be hospitalised.”
“Okay, don’t worry….give him the medicines on time,” Maneesha said, now a bit softened.
“Yes, Maneesha didi….so what do you want for breakfast?” Lata di asked.
“Nothing…I already had cereals….just make lunch for me, and dinner for me and Mita.” Maneesha replied.
“No no…let me make you some hot Ajwain-Parantha, with tea for breakfast….I’ll make you tea the way you want..black tea, without sugar. Why have only cereals for breakfast on a weekend? You still have a long time to go for lunch,” Lata di insisted.
Maneesha soon gave in to the indulgence and agreed to have a couple of ajwain parantha with tea.
That was the thing about Lata Di. Call it her way to maintain customer relation, or her genuine love for cooking….she would never shy away from showing initiative from her side to make that glass of smoothie or juice, and remind Maneesha and Mita to have it before they would rush for office, to make that second cup of tea for Maneesha, without her asking for it; on the days when Maneesha would leave for office a little late to match US timezone. One day she had even scolded Maneesha for not changing her bed sheet for a long time, and nagged her to let her wash the existing sheet and bring out a new one. No matter what, Lata Di was there, right there, for these girls. That’s why….a few days of her delayed arrival, and surprise leaves didn’t agitate the girls too much.
“This Parantha is awesome Lata di,” Maneesha complimented Lata di, while having her second round of breakfast,”I would’ve eaten more had I not taken my cereals already. Try not to be so late.”
“What to do Maneesha di,” Lata spoke,” In my household I’m the only person handling everything. You know..my husband had broken both his hands around one and half years back. I had told him innumerable number of times, not to drink alcohol and go for work. He used to work as a labourer at construction sites. He didn’t listen to me , didi….and was drunk one day, while working on one of the higher floors of a building under construction. He slipped and fell off, breaking both his hands. Till now his hands don’t function properly. He can’t work as a labourer any more either, because of same. So I’m the only earning member of the family…..I’ve even brought my ailing mother home to stay with us. Now you only tell…..looking after an aged mother, rushing to doctors with my son, going to houses to work…..how tough it could be to handle all on my own!”
“Okay okay…relax,” said an overwhelmed Maneesha, “ so why don’t you ask your husband to try for some job in any other place. He doesn’t have to be a labourer…he can try in some shop or some where….you know…where he won’t have to lift too much of load with his hands,” He couldn’t be THAT paralysed, he had produced a child after all, Maneesha calculated in her mind.
“You think I haven’t told him?” Lata di sniffled,” He says he doesn’t feel like working any more. Since he hasn’t been going to work for more than a year now, he has lost interest in working as a whole.”
The moment she heard this, Maneesha got reminded of Susheela di, the maid in her previous flat.
“Usko kantaar ata hai, didi” (He keeps feeling lazy, didi), was her typical dialogue whenever Maneesha would ask her if he was looking for a job, after he had been fired from the restaurant where he used to work as a waiter.
“He says he has lost all energy to look for job...and just loves to while away his time. But he is fond of cooking and eating, didi. So I tell him to cook food for the family while I go for work,” Susheela would laugh, “He worked at a restaurant. So he cooks all fancy dish of chicken, fish…..pastas and noodles at home! Anyways he doesn’t like it when I cook normal homely food. So I have told him, if you want to eat and stay alive, then cook for yourself and all of us. Do something, at least!”
“Wow…chicken, fish daily? Pastas, too? Doesn’t it get costly?” Maneesha had asked
“It does, but what to do….at least that way he will make himself useful. He won’t be cooking normal daal-rice even if I ask him to,” was Susheela’s answer.
In that flat, Maneesha had ended up staying alone in a 2BHK, as her flatmate had almost moved in to her boyfriend’s flat. But she hadn’t vacated her room either. So she used to come once or twice a month to get her room cleaned. Maneesha was initially torn between whether to be happy about getting complete privacy with a room and hall to herself, and being worried that the entire responsibility of the flat and security was on herself. Also, she was anxious that the maid would take a lot too many leaves, won’t be punctual…taking advantage of the fact that there was only one girl. That’s where Susheela di had stepped in, and won over Maneesha.
Seven long months, and Susheela was never late, nor did she take too many leaves. Once she said she would visit her village and would be back in less than two weeks. She was back to work on the mark of twelfth day! Talk of work ethics? She had it all.Maneesha never felt difficulty with handling too many things alone, without a flatmate, thanks to Susheela Di's presence.
Quite like Lata, Susheela also had a son, around two year old, and a younger sister who used to stay with her. “Maneesha didi, I’ll get my sister along one day…please tell her to study,” Susheela had begged Maneesha once.
“Sure, how old is she?” Maneesha asked, “And why doesn’t she want to study?”
“She should be going to college by now. But she says she doesn’t feel interested in studying, “ Susheela said, “I’ve told her so many times …there’s no charm in ending up where I am! When you have the time, and chance….please go study. But she doesn’t listen. And we have got many schemes and scholarships also right? For education of under-privileged girls? Please tell her !”
Maneesha had never seen Susheela without a smile on her face. She too was the sole bread-earner of a family comprising of an unemployed-by-choice husband, a little kid, and a young sister. But she was aware of how this life wasn’t the ultimate one, how things could be better for her sister if she made wiser use of time. A week before Maneesha left the place, Susheela had cooked Marathi dish of vade and chicken for her and brought. “We don’t have fridge at home didi….so I sent my husband to get chicken early in the morning only, so that I could cook immediately! I had always wanted to get this dish for you……now that you’re leaving, I thought it’s time.” That was one of the tastiest Marathi cuisines Maneesha had ever had.
“Maneesha didi ! You had told me you would tell me a Bengali recipe for chicken…..please come to the kitchen and tell, I’ll cook today,” Called out Lata di, snatching Maneesha out of her chain of thoughts.
“Oh yes……or you can cook in your own way too, if you want” Maneesha said.
“No no….teach me. It’s good for me also to learn new recipes. I can apply these at other houses and see which ones people like,” Lata di said, enthusiastically.
Maneesha opened the small notebook where her mother had written various recipes, and gave Lata di directions for cooking; and came back to her room.
“Today, as we thrive towards strengthening women empowerment in our organisation and beyond, we are encouraging and incorporating the key ingredients required for climbing the corporate ladder, among women : Persistence, despite adversities…..a voracious appetite for learning new skills, topped by ability to quickly implement those………..stakeholder management, client satisfaction…to name a few”, one of the senior leaders from a reputed firm had mentioned on Friday; Maneesha recalled, as she simultaneously ticked all of these points in her mind for the Lata and Susheela Didis of the world.