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Wednesday, April 3, 2013

How I met my maid

Since I blogged about my current neighbours who happen to be hookers of a kind, and in that post I also mentioned the year when I stayed in a place where my neighbours were truck drivers, carpenters and guards, I thought I'd elaborate a bit on that little phase of my life. I had two dogs then - Stuart and Lisa. Yeah, Lisa was still alive; I had taken her from college and she was with me for about two years, before her uterus started developing problems and I had to get her operated, which wasn't too successful, and she eventually succumbed to it. I found her lying next to the road, a little distance from the house, as if she had come a distance looking for me before her body gave way. I sometimes feel that I let her down in more ways than one. Lisa was buried outside the courtyard of that house anda flower sapling was planted on her grave, and this reminds me that I should go and check on it sometime soon. Lisa was the sweetheart of college. She used to attend classes with my roommate Karan and me, but well, more about Lisa later.

This place was a hostel for labourers of sorts. It had about 54 rooms, and each room had a tiny attached bathroom and a sad excuse for a kitchen, and there were 54 of them one next to the other, in two floors. Each room was 2500 rupees. Most of the rooms were occupied by carpenters, truck drivers, plumbers, guards, etc. and there were usually between 5-10 people sharing one room, with several mattresses on the floor. Since I needed some open space for the dogs, and a lot of landlords weren't okay keeping dogs, I decided to try this setup for a while. I was somewhat of a superstar over there, as I had taken up two rooms there all by myself, had a motorbike, and could speak in English as well! The landlord's name was Babbal, a true Jaat. This house was bordering DLF phase 3, one of the last houses in the bordering Nathupur village. There was a Bangladeshi basti nearby, where Babbal and his brothers would go each day with a bottle or two of whiskey to hunt for some young bangla women. They were usually successful, as some drunk Bangla would readily exchange a bottle of whiskey for a night with his daughter, and when they didn't, the brothers used force, coz they had the whole village behind them. It is said that once some policemen made the mistake of coming to question them because of a report written by someone, and they got thrashed and pelted with stones till they had to run. No policeman was seen in the vicinity post that.

There was also a guard who use to take care of the entire complex, and his name was Kaushal. Kaushal used to work for Babbal, and if he didn't do his work well, used to get locked in a vacant room and thrashed with either a belt or a hawaii chappal, whichever was more easily accessible at that moment. Kaushal used to open the gate when I came back home at night, fill water in the underwater tank, and do odd jobs for me when I asked him to. He also took care of my dogs when I was not there. I made a lot of friends while I lived there. One was called Kundan, an electrician from Bihar who used to work as a contractor with DLF, fixing electrical wires in DLF buildings. There was another called Bablu, who along with Kaushal had a fancy for two single ladies who had rented one of the rooms by themelves. One of them was a Manipuri girl who was having an affair with a married Jaat from the village, and the other was a single mother called Meera, whose husband had left her with a son and run away with another woman. Bablu used to work with Maruti at that time. I was still in touch with him many years from then. Another crazy character I met over there was Bipin, a taxi driver from Haryana who used to work crazy hours and go with barely any sleep for days together. He was working for his sister's wedding, and had to save up as much as he could by driving as many hours as he could.

Being friends with him had its benefits, as he used to pick me up from the railway station each time I got back from my visit home (although he had to accept a fare for it), and then we would have fun talking about all sorts of stuff sitting in his car. It was from him that I heard the word 'Gashti' for the first time, and all I could think of at that time was that it had a strange resonance with the word 'Geisha', and they both kinda had a similar meaning. We would talk about his village, my hometown, our dreams, philosophies of life, etc. His philosophy was very simple. He was out there to have fun, and was always looking to get a pretty girl to his room while his roommates were out on duty. Once he even got a girl in there, and Kaushal and I made life hell for him by repeatedly banging at the door while he was at it inside. He obviously wasn't very happy about it and didn't speak to us for a few days. We also used to tease Meera's son, Siddhant, who was a cocky lad of 4, and had been spending a lot of time in the Bangla basti and had picked up abuses in three langauges - Hindi, Haryanvi and Bangla. He would not listen to his mother at all, and if she tried to hit him, he would just abuse the hell out of her. So we used to wait for times when we found him alone, and then either lock him in the car or douse him with water from the hose, till he would cry and apologise for being such a spoilt brat.

Babbal and his brothers, Bipin, Bablu, Kaushal and I would also play cricket on the weekend evenings with a tennis ball, and later Babbal would tell us about how Gurgaon was 20 years ago, and how, with the arrival of the corporates, the land rates shot up overnight, and all the farmers became millionares. He was one such beneficiary, uneducated and rich, had 5 or 6 cars in his courtyard, and owned several other plots of land besides the arrangement we stayed in. He would tell us about how powerful his family was and how no one could dare to lay a finger on him. He would also get really drunk on some days and when he couldn't (or didn't want to) find a Bangla girl, would sometimes try to get into the room where the two single ladies stayed. They would therefore lock themselves in every evening before he got too drunk, and then just refuse to open the door no matter how much he insisted. Somehow, when a lot of the tenants would come out to witness the commotion, he would decide to let go and head off to the basti instead. Kaushal and Bablu, like I said had a thing for Meera, the single mom, and somehow, Kaushal had his way with her before Bablu did. Kaushal one day told me that Meera had quit the factory where she knit sweaters, and asked me asked me if I needed omeone to cook and clean for me, and when I replied in the affirmative, he brought her over to cook for me. She made some delicious potato fry and some fresh poori which I hogged, and she was thus employed. Since she had a thing going on with Kaushal, and Kaushal used to call me bhaiyya, she, by extension, became Bhabhiji, as she is still known to my friends and family.

I lived in that setup for about a year, post which I had had too much of Gurgaon and its frequent 18 hour power cuts, murky hard water, polluted air, congested traffic and lack of a cultural life. So I moved to Vasant Kunj with my former crazy roommate - Samir Krishnamurti - stories of whom must eventually follow as well. After a year or so of staying there, Kaushal called me up and said that Bhabhiji had quit another job in a factory and couldn't pay the rent where she lived. Moreover, Babbal was getting more and more menacing since she hadn't paid the rent for the previous month. So he asked me if I could keep her as a domestic help where I lived. I consulted my roommates, who were glad about having domestic help, and so she arrived, and worked for me for the next 5 years. I had a tough time schooling Siddhant and ridding him of all his bad habits. It took a while for me to make him learn to read and write enough for him to be able to go to school. He joined school a couple of years later, much older than his classmates, and struggled intially, but with time and a lot of additional tutoring, he moved on to class 3, at which point Bhabhiji got an offer from one of her friends to join a call centre (before you gasp in disbelief, let me tell you that she joined them as a lady guard). They were paying her more than I could, and she felt it was a better choice for her.

This is the story of my maid, Bhabhiji, who I met during an interesting phase of my life, and the reason I kept her for so long was because she was really good to the dogs, and loved them like her own children. I could leave the house and go for months together on my foreign trips with IBM, and not really worry about how the dogs were. I spoke to her a few days ago and she said that she has enrolled Siddhant in another school, but was afraid that she might not be able to afford his education. I have left the option of returning open for her and her son. The rest of course is yet to transpire...