Shanti- My piece of peace.
I met Shanti some 8years ago. My househelp has not come for almost a week. Being a working woman, the absence of househelp is scary. So, I asked my neighbour if she could ask her maid to help me getting a replacement. Her maid obliged, and agreed to help me out with the routine household chores of brooming, dusting, cleaning the utensils. That is the day, when I met my Shanti. A dusky girl in her early twenties, with a distinct happy face. We hardly spoke to each other for a week. At the end of the week, she told me, “Bhabi, I want to work in your house. Your maid may not turn up for a long time. And I like working at your place. You seem different than the others.”
I agreed, not because I had started liking her, (it was too early for me to even think about her) but I had no options. So I told her, yes. And then after few months, I too started appreciating her effort. She was unlike all the other maids, I have dealt with in the past. She was happy, she loved her work, she would do things even if I have not told her. She would not take a leave even when she was sick. She would walk her way to reach her workplace on a day of a strike or bandh, when the other maids enjoyed a free holiday. Shanti was different. She did her job so well that I felt blessed having her.
And then one day, she brought a 2year old with her. Her son. So Shanti is married? Well, she was, her husband had passed away a year ago, leaving behind a son. I felt sad. Very very sad for her. She narrated me her story. Her husband was a very lovable person. He kept her well. He had a Government job, of a peon. She was a happily married lady. But, when tragedy strikes, no one knows what to do. She was back in her village visiting her mother, when the news of her husband’s death paralysed her life. She told me, how she managed to reach Kolkata from Ranchi, with her one year old and how devastated she was. She saw her life sinking in front of her. She was unaware of how to deal with this loss and handle the other formalities related to the death of her husband.
And to make the matter worse, her in-laws came in to trouble her. Saddened by her husband’s death, and a one year old wailing kid, she saw her life crumbling to pieces. As per Government rules, after the death of the husband, the wife gets the pension and the job. But, her in-laws wanted her to give the job to her brother in law, which the girl resisted. She was class 8 pass, she knew hindi well, but had no knowledge about English, but she knew one thing, that in case she revokes her power of getting the job, the life of her son would be ruined. So she kept on fighting, and thankfully the people at her husband’ s office helped her a lot. So at least, her name was registered for the pension and job.
I was relieved thinking that she was getting a pension. I was wrong, Government proceedings moves at a tortiose speed, unaware of what the aggrieved party has to bear. And for Shanti, it was the worst phase of her life. With no where to go, she was forced to stay with her in laws, they wouldn’t give her food to eat, and kept her son hungry. She was forced to do all the household chores. Her hungry son cried for food, and she had nothing to offer. Her helplessness made her strong. After sometime, she mustered the courage to break the shackles of her bondage. She left that place. A close relative arranged a shanty for her. But, now how was she to pay for the mere rent of Rs.50? How was she to feed her hungry son? They told her pension would take time. But time would not feed empty stomachs. But, her kind relative arranged a job for her. She was clean the utensils, dust the house, mop it clean. It was a relief for her. She told me, that never in her life she thought that she would have to work at others house. But she had no regrets. One thing she told me, which still makes me question myself, she told me, “Bhabi koi kaam bhi chota nahi hota hai.” No work is small. How true, how expensive, and how a 8 pass girl understood its true meaning. How many of us can actually imply it? We are camouflaged by our status, our qualification, our high end lives. Can we share the similar thought? Its tough. But she did it.
This newly found job, gave her food, met her bare necessities, mostly gave her a new life. She was happy with her work. And soon, there was a demand for Shanti. Every household wanted her to work for them, she was very good at her work, she was very punctual, hardly took any leave. Who wouldn’t want such a house help? But, she choose her workplace very diligently. I had no idea, that the most demanded maid, choose me. I felt lucky. I still feel lucky to have known her. Soon, I started leaving my house keys with her. Yes, for the first time, I had trusted a house help. She kept the extra set of keys with pride. It gave her the chance to add an extra house to her already existing list. She would clean the house, do every needful thing and leave the house. I never found even a coin missing from my house. At times, my jewellery would just lie on the bed side table. She would clean the table and keep everything the way it was. And also at times scold me for leaving expensive items so carelessly. And I would tell her, I do it because I trust you Shanti. And she would blush.
Soon I begged her to do the cooking for me. She straight away said no. But I kept on nagging her and finally she obliged. She was scared, that she would not cook upto the mark. But, she was a fast learner. Pretty soon, she was no less than a chef. With time, our relationship started growing, and so did her struggle for her pension and job. She would often, move from table to table, court to court, to get the things done. At times, I felt like going with her and shouting at the government officials for making the life of a widow, so troublesome. Years after years passed by for the papers to reach the desired destination. I found out, how cheap people can be, how confidently can a man ask for a hefty bribe from a church mouse, that too, to give her something which is already hers. My blood boiled as I heard the things the officials would tell her. Some even made indecent proposals to her. But she is a woman of a strong character. Her dignity was her pride.
Our new house was ready for possession. We were planning to shift there as soon as possible. We were so happy that we have purchased a new flat in a very posh residential complex. But, amidst all this I was sad. I had to let Shanti go. We both were sad. Our new flat was around 2kms from the old one. Shanti, initially was hesitant travelling to that place. But her love for me, made her follow me to that place. I told her that here I will pay her much more than what she was getting. She was angry. She told me that she would take the same money from me. And to that, I laughed at her. I still remember, when I paid her, her 1st month’s salary at our new place, she came to me and returned Rs. 1000 from her amount. She told it was too much for her. I told her it was too less, as to what she does for us, and forced her to take it. Unwillingly she took. Soon, she found two new houses, who within a week joined her fan following list.
And now instead of earning few thousand a month, she was earning a decent double digit salary. Her life improved. She enrolled her son in a good English medium school. Her dream was finally coming true. My house, as per her is her lucky house. Within a few months, her long awaited pension was finally sanctioned. And within a year she got her husband’s job. A job she got, 7years after her husband deceased. Sad, but true. Wish Government was active in these matters. It would have helped so many families who have lost their near and dear ones.
Today she proudly claims to be the Senior Peon of the office. She is financially secured. Her son is going to a very good school. She is class 8 pass, had no knowledge of english but now she watsapp’s me on a regular basis, as we have shifted to a different region. She had seen the worst in her life, but she was never broken, she was hassled by the official, denied of what was her own, betrayed by her family, but she faced everything with a smile.
Pregnant Kareena Kapoor walking down the ramp created history. But, could Kareena Kapoor survive being Shanti just for one day? She cannot. Neither can I. She is what I call, a true example of an unsung hero. We always look upto the famous persons, celebrities, cricketers as our heros. No doubt, some of them had really struggled to reach that position. But how many of us can make adversities and struggle our friends and share our life happily with them? They are the real life heros.
I admire her for her courage, her strength, her demeanour, her perseverance, her attitude towards life, to be satisfied and happy even with the bare minimum. If I could imbibe even 1% of her outlook towards life, I would be grateful. I have learnt a lot from Shanti. I am sorry, that I introduced her as my maid. She is Shanti- My piece of peace.