Mosquitoes12 mins 13.1K 12 mins 13.1K
"Didi, what should I do?" asked Seeta, the domestic help, her voice swimming in apparent pain. Sitting across from her on the sofa, Radha looked up, true concern flashing on her face for the first time during this conversation. Seeta did seem genuinely in pain. Perhaps, this was not one of her acting antics to extract undeserved holidays from her employer. The doctor in Radha won over the mistress in her as she spoke,
"I've told you before Seeta, I am not in a position to procure those medicines for you. You need to go to the hospital, get yourself properly checked and only then you'll get the prescription. This is a serious drug we are talking about; they don't just go handing them out like that."
"But Didi, you are a doctor, they won't refuse you!"
"Arre, they can't give that drug without a proper prescription. Moreover, it is not my department, do you understand? And I don't believe any doctor will write you a wrong prescription for that drug. Just go to the hospital once. I can take you! I've offered you so many times before!" said Radha, pleading sincerely.
Seeta mulled it over in her uneducated mind as Radha looked on, a sense of déjà vu settling over the scene. As always, Seeta shook her head.
"No, Didi. I must see Rekha's wedding to the end first. Once that burden is off my shoulders, then perhaps, I'll get better."
Radha was disappointed. It was difficult to get any sense into Seeta's head with everything around her pulling her down and inhibiting her. She understood the finality in Seeta's words. There wasn't much to say anymore.
"Hmm. Alright, as you wish."
Seeta stared blankly into the open for a second. As she was turning to leave, unexpected words entered her ears,
"Take an off tomorrow," said Radha. She felt sympathetic.
Seeta felt grateful that her employer was as kind and well-meaning as Radha Didi. This was perhaps, the only facet of life where she could say she had been fortunate. She thanked Radha, grabbed the garbage bag and left, shutting the mahogany door behind her.
Radha's head ached on the journey back to home from the hospital. She loved her profession, the satisfaction it often times provided her was irreplaceable. Yet, on days like this she hoped for nothing more than to escape from that dirty government institution and get back home for a soothing bath and a comforting chaai. She thought of her son, Karan, who would probably be watching television or would be drowned in his nap. Radha's husband was out of town and the thought filled her with relief and guilt. She should not be feeling relieved that her husband was away, but a harrowing day like this egged her on to afford any and all luxuries, and not taking care of anyone was one of them. Although, she would miss his calming voice and presence. With these conflicting thoughts she drove on.
As she parked her car in the parking reserved for House no. 505 she was left taken aback by what she saw nearby. Seeta and a girl were quarrelling with each other, their voices rising each instant. Radha quickly got out and rushed towards the arguing pair.
"Seeta! Seeta! What's wrong? Who is this?"
Seeta looked up with fire in her eyes. She said, trying to control her voice,
"See, Didi! Look at this little devil! Ask her what she was doing! Tell her! Tell her!" Seeta hit the girl behind her head.
Radha tried to calm the situation down, "Seeta! Seeta, relax! Don't hit her. Tell me, who is she?"
But Radha knew the answer to her question before Seeta could gather herself to say something. The girl being hit, now dishevelled and with unkempt hair, was Sonu, Seeta's youngest daughter. Radha remembered her from the many times she had accompanied her mother to work. Radha had made sure that at all of those times this young girl was at her house she never work but be treated as a guest. Radha had even tried to teach Sonu once, but to no avail. Sonu was almost unrecognisable now. She had the look of a worn-out traveller who hadn't had a good night's sleep in months.
"Oh! This is little Sonu! What happened? Why are you hitting her so, Seeta?"
Seeta, who had been glaring at her daughter like the devil herself, said, "This little devil will ruin my life. She does nasha! Even at her sister's engagement she could not stop! Created an almighty ruckus! So embarrassing it was!"
And with that Seeta again grabbed Sonu by the collar and began hitting her violently. Radha jumped between mother and daughter and pushed them apart. She was horrified by what she had heard. Sonu might be 15 or 16, but not more. Drug addiction was possibly the worst thing she could be trapped into, considering her circumstances. A morbid fear gripped Radha then and there. As she looked upon the two people on her either side, she could not help but imagine a difficult future ahead for them if no immediate steps were taken.
"Seeta, calm down. Sonu...just...Come with me, both of you!" Radha understood that the first step was counselling. Sonu was not wholly to blame. She never had anyone telling her what was wrong or right, did she? She was what, the fifth or sixth daughter of an illiterate mother and an inexistent father? They were all living on bare minimum. And now Seeta had to get her daughters married off, all by herself, and whatever little help she received from her employers. In such a hopeless scenario this detestable habit adopted by Sonu did make sense. And the fact that all this could be predicted yet not prevented made it all the more pitiable.
At home, Radha sent Karan out to play with his friends. Inside, what followed was emotionally and mentally hassling for the three occupants of the house. No matter what Radha and Seeta said and screamed, Sonu remained unaffected. All their words of warning and concern simply bounced off her thick and stoic skin. To her, all that was transpiring around her in that magnificently furnished room was hollow and void of any tangible meaning. It didn't provide her any pleasure. It didn't make her numb to all the pain. They are preaching, Sonu thought, and continued to nod her head at random times.
In the end, some promises were made but Radha worried about their bleak prospect. Seeta had a shade of relief on her face but from what Radha could gather, all would be forgotten by Sonu in a couple of hours. She required care and time, something Seeta was desperately out of.
As the pair of mother and daughter bid Radha farewell, the latter made a silent prayer.
"Didi, sometimes it is unbearable."
Seeta's complains had increased in their frequency over the past couple of days. Though her stance of daughter's marriage first, health later also stood firm. Radha continued to offer to accompany her to the hospital but fruitlessly. Seeta's words once again shook something in Radha's conscience, but there was no way she could procure the drug that would abate Seeta's symptoms. It was a drug that carried a huge addictive potential and the only way to get hold of it without following procedure was illegal smuggling, something that Radha obviously was neither capable nor willing to do.
"What do you want me to do?" said Radha a little louder than she intended. She was miffed with her domestic help. Seeta was clearly in too much pain and Radha had given her a week off now. Yet she had emerged on the mistress' doorstep, seeking that which had been refused a number of times before.
"Just rid me of this pain, I beg you," said Seeta, on the verge of tears.
Radha was moved. The tears that seemed imminent were not driven by physical pain alone but combined with stress that Seeta was under. From what Radha could gather, Sonu had returned to her drug abusing ways. And Seeta's husband was lying drunk in some desolate corner of Geeta Vihar, oblivious of the fact that his daughter would very soon be married. Radha decided to give Seeta some routine painkillers, at the same time feeling disgusted at her own helplessness.
"Here, take these. These might help; take one whenever the pain shoots up," she said, handing out the tablets. She added,
"I'll come over to your house in a couple of days, see if I can help in any way, okay?"
Seeta felt gratified upon hearing these words. Such involvement of employers was unheard of in Geeta Vihar, where she hailed from. Once again she left 505 with a sliver of hope burgeoning inside her.
Radha had to tightly press her handkerchief to her nose and mouth, such was the unbearable stink that pervaded this overcrowded and neglected area of Geeta Vihar. Even the auto-rickshaw she was on had to be stopped countless number of times so that calves and kids might not get run over. Gradually, she arrived at a modest dwelling decorated in a wild fashion. Perhaps even a man on the moon could have spotted that a wedding would soon take place here. But instead of cheerful melodies, despairing wails were what greeted Radha at Seeta's house.
"Aunty! Aunty!" Rekha, the bride-to-be, came out screaming, "Aunty, mummy died this morning! She is not moving... she is not breathing!" Rekha was crying so hysterically now that none of her words made any sense. But Radha had heard enough to be completely stunned. She was left rooted to the spot. She shook herself out of her disbelief, handed the fare to the auto-rickshaw driver and followed Rekha into the grim house.
"I called the policeman from the thana," said a sobbing Rekha as the pair made its way to the room where lay the unmoving body of Seeta.
The room was filthy, to say the least. And Seeta lay right in the middle of a bed, surrounded by grieving, worried souls. The policeman was there too. He saw Radha, came towards her, then led her straight out of the room.
"Yes, madam, who are you now?" he asked, his voice rough as sandpaper.
Radha felt as though she had lost the ability to make a sound. With an almighty effort she responded, "Er, I, er...She worked at my house, Seeta did. I am a doctor, let me go check on her."
"She is dead, madam. A local physician's already been here."
"And he has confirmed that she is deceased. He could not quite point out the cause, though. Apparently she had been suffering from some major ailment that she left untreated for too long."
Radha could hear herself breaking from inside. She felt guilty, somehow. Was it her fault in some ways? She would worry about that later.
"Yes, she had been suffering. But she would never go to the hospital, no matter how I persuaded her. There was this drug that could have saved her, Metadone 500. But it could not have been prescribed without proper procedure...," Radha was rambling now.
"Which drug did you just say, ma'am?" the policeman's interest was piqued.
"Uh, Metadone 500? Why?"
The policeman seemed excited now, understanding dawning on his face.
"A small stock of the same drug was stolen a couple of nights ago from the hospital. You must have heard?"
Radha shook her head. No such news had reached her ears.
"And do you know a girl named Sonu?"
"Yeah, she is Seeta's youngest daughter! Why, what happened to her?"
The policeman pursed his lips and said nodding, "Well, she has been missing since last night too. And she has been on our radar from some time now, for petty crimes."
Radha was stunned yet again. She was not stupid, she could put two and two together. What was being implied here was just too morbid.
The policeman added, "I think I'll escort you back to your house now, miss. You don't have any business here. This is a crime scene now. And anyway this place is too dangerous at night."
Radha agreed without a protest. Night was falling and she had to be home. She consoled Rekha and then headed home with the policeman.
In the Jeep, Radha enquired, "I never knew there was a police station here. Shouldn't this place then be relatively safer?"
"That's exactly why it is so dangerous, madam."
When Radha had been at Seeta's she had received such horrendous negative vibes, as though all the souls present there already had ruinous fates set for them just because of the accident of being born there.
"It's a dirty pond, madam, and they are all mosquitoes. They breed like mosquitoes and die like them."
Radha ran to pick the phone up. It must be Madhav, she thought; he would be returning to Delhi tonight. The voice from the other side though was nowhere as mellow as her husband's.
"Hello! Radha madam? This is sub-inspector Pandey from the Geeta Vihar thana."
"Yes?" asked Radha, worried.
"We have found Sonu, madam. She has been admitted to Civil Hospital on account of drug overdose. She might not have much time, ma'am. No one from her family is responding. You are the only employer of hers that we know of. Would you mind coming down to the hospital?"
Radha knew now what it meant to be absolutely distraught. She had expected this deep down, ever since the day of Seeta’s death. But now, as she stared at the horrible truth, she wished forever more that it be false.
Sonu died later that evening of an overdose of Metadone 500.
At night, in her home, Radha was left to mourn the twisted fates of these two poor women she used to welcome in her home. How ironical it all was! Just how saddening! The mother died of a lack of medicine she so desperately needed and the daughter was now dead from an overdose of the same. Radha had told everything to Madhav who had arrived later that evening. How these two lives had taken down so many lives around them to hell. Would Rekha ever get married or find work? And what of her sisters and brother? Did their father even know of what had come to pass? At the same time, Radha was left to rue her own helplessness.
"You should never have gotten so involved, you know," said Madhav surprising Radha from behind.
"How could I not have?"
Madhav sipped water from the glass he held in his hand. "You were not her only employer. I didn't hear of any other of our neighbours getting up and traipsing down to that hellhole."
Radha felt wronged by Madhav's words. She had expected him to be a little understanding.
"Be a little sensitive."
Madhav let out a snort of derision, "I could be, but then what? What could you or I do to stall what had to happen? I am sad, I am. But let's not stay hung up on that. It's been a week now since Seeta died."
The words spun in Radha's head. What could you or I do? She could never make sense of the tinge of guilt that might always remain with her. At that moment, Madhav hugged her from behind.
"Come on, we need to find a new domestic help."