"Arre andar jao na, mujhe chadhne do", Titli yelled at the co-commuters, who were dangling at the door of the local train. She shoved and pushed to make her way inside, in the hope of getting at least the fourth seat.
She's in a rush to get to her work on time, she doesn't want to be late, again!
Titli, an ever-smiling, frail girl, clad in a simple salwaar kameez, travels from a distant suburb, Virar, which is far away from proper Mumbai. She works as a house help - cleaning, cooking at 4 houses. Due to covid, she lost a lot of jobs. To reach Vile Parle she has to change trains at Andheri. It's always a race against time!Those who have travelled on local trains in Mumbai know how difficult it is to board trains during peak hours and also, the fact that you have to be there on time to board it, if you miss one train then you lose a lot of time in between.
"Mummy take care of both of them, see to it they attend school, I've packed their favourite food today," Titli informs her mother while dropping her son Om and daughter Saloni at her mother's place, before rushing to the train station.
Once I asked her generally, "What time do you wake up, how do you manage your housework after toiling the whole day at work?" I was completely in awe of her after listening to her daily routine.
"Didi, I wake up at 4 a.m to fill water, I have to go down to get drinking water, I fill four 20 litre bisleri bottles, so I have to make four rounds up to the fourth floor every day," Titli started off with her day's routine."Where is your husband, why doesn't he help you in getting the water and why don't you get water in your house tap?" there were many questions I wanted to ask but just started with these."My husband is fast asleep, he has to go to work na so I don't wake him up. We don't get water as the building hasn't received OC and there are many other issues," she continued.
"After that, I cook food for all of us and pack my husband's tiffin, once he leaves by 7, I finish the rest of the work and wake my children up, my son is 7 years old and my daughter is 3. I give them something to eat, bathe them, pack their food and then drop them at my mother's place which is few buildings away. Then I quickly start walking to the train station which takes me at least 18 minutes," Titli went on narrating her duties one after the other.
All this while, I was listening to her quietly without interrupting and at the back of my mind I kept on thinking how can one person do so much work at a go! I do some work and take a break, sitting with my phone checking messages and all...
"Why don't you take 'share a rickshaw' (That's a concept we have in many suburbs, it's like car pool, rickshaw pool) till station, it will save time and energy," I was inquisitive by now. "No didi, rickshaw takes 20 rupees one way, I cannot afford to spend 40 rupees every day on a rickshaw, and walking is a good exercise na," she smiles at me.
Does she need any more exercise than what she's already doing.. she's already overexerting herself.
"What do you do after going back home?" I didn't stop myself from asking her more questions. But our ever-smiling Titli was more than happy to answer all my queries."I have to take the 3.30 p.m. train, if I'm lucky and catch it, then I'll reach by 5.30 and I'll pick my children up from my mother's place. Once I'm home, I take a bath and wash all the clothes with the borewell water that we get at home. Then I make tea and snacks for myself and the children. They have so many stories to share over tea. I have to start cooking before my husband is home, he would be so hungry when he gets back. Once cooking is done I have to teach my children whatever school work they have done. With online school I only have to teach them everything, they hardly pay attention in school. We have dinner followed by ice cream, then after cleaning up, I check my phone for what's app messages. It's almost 12 by the time I sleep."
"Titli, are you serious you do all this in a days work! I get tired of doing the household chores that I have, plus I have help from you... and look at you... how? How do you manage all this and yet keep that smile intact on your face? When do you rest?" I was astonished beyond astonishment!
"We have to work didi, with covid everything has become even more difficult, my children are my strength," with a bright face she went on, "If I manage to get fourth seat ( One more concept coined by people of Mumbai traveling on local trains) I take a nap till my destination arrives, that's my resting time," she replied.
"Ice cream... every day?" I couldn't help myself from asking her. "Yes didi, we cannot afford to fall sick, we cannot afford to miss work, we save money by not traveling in an autorickshaw, so that we can afford to fulfill their wishes. Both my children love ice cream, we always keep it in the fridge so they can enjoy it every day..." she happily answered. "Didi, I make pizza, pasta, pav bhaji also for them, they really like it. I've learnt all this from my other madam at whose house I cook," she added.
If I travel just for a day, I'm tired and need rest the next day, comfortably taking a nap in an air-conditioned room... and here we have Titli and many others like her, who not only travel, be it scorching heat or pouring rain, almost four hours every day to get to work, they finish all their chores, take care of the children, work at five to six other homes to get back to their family by evening... and for what? To earn a few thousand rupees, to make their ends meet, to give their children a bright future, to live a dignified life.
Now.... Titli is definitely one of them whom I call a ' Super Mom'. Just like her name, fluttering from one house to another, brimming with a smile, always upbeat and positive, spreading happiness and cheer.
Only if, Titli had better education, better job, better working conditions, better housing, life would be very different for her. She would be in much better place. Her children would have a brighter future.
This is a true story of my house help and I feel they deserve to get much more than what they make. I don't mean only monetarily, but, respect, compassion and understanding too.
And let me add, Titli rarely takes a leave from work, she doesn't want her didi to be burdened with all the housework.