“Why did you absent yourself for days on end? You vanish into thin air when I need you most,” Nanda, my wife, glowered at Kala, our housemaid, who, after days of disappearance, presented herself suddenly at our door one day. She stood there with her head bent, not able to look at Nanda’s face. Kala was in her mid-5os, as thin as wire. She wore a cheap weave with her hair in a knot no larger than a walnut.
“Come on; tell me Kala, why you frequently disappear from the work? Don’t you get paid for your chores,” Nanda snarled at Kala, her tone tinged with anger and rage.
“Believe me, Amma,” Kala spoke in a cringing tone - she was still looking at the ground beneath her feet. “A black scorpion stung me yesterday. I was rushed to a hospital where I got my navel jabbed with twenty-four injections”
I stood disoriented with my senses taking leave of me. But Kala continued her bleating.
“Yes, Amma, the scorpion was inside the kerosene stove. When I started cleaning the burner, the bloody thing stung my wrist.” Kala’s voice trailed off when Nanda started laughing heartily. She too laughed. Taking advantage of my wife’s jovial mood, the trickster entered the house and started doing her chores in her usual slapdash way.
Unlike in other towns where we had lived in for years, home maids are rare species to be found in Chennai metro. Two things are elusive in this conservative place: functional auto meters in auto-rickshaws and the services of maids
Since the tribes of maids thus dwindle here due to their not following the ‘ Varnashrama Dharma, they are in great demand. They hike their wages to roof tops, would never touch leftover food, insist a cup of ‘BRU-instant’ both morning and evening. They are annoyingly rigid doing only allotted works, and for any extra chore they would demand monetary compensation. However, Nanda treat her maid a ‘Royal Queen’ giving her money whenever she demands and provide her with best food she cook for our family- I know Kala is a gourmet. But then, what is more disgusting to us is not my maid’s frequent vanishing when the house is full of guests, but the reasons she adduces to justify her sudden absence.
Kala has the ability to craft fine stories. It seems she has been immensely endowed with the power of creative imagination, which she skillfully uses to rob our senses. In the ocean of her imagination, the scorpion story is only a trifle. The followings are some of her excuses she would be fishing out to justify her sudden disappearance: death of a grandma followed by a grandfather [she had almost virtually killed all her lineage]; rain flooded her house and washed away her possessions [she would say this when the city is reeling under hot summer]; one of her children has swallowed the vegetable knife; another boy had brain tumor but got cured in three days when she gave him some herbal powder. Kala’s power of the Gab always reminds me on Rashid, the master story-teller, in one of Salman Rushdie’s short stories.
Recently, Kala had vanished from my house for a fortnight. When we were looking for another maid, she came running to Nanda one day. She looked devastated with hair disheveled, eyes shedding streams of tears. She took hold of Nanda’s hands, pressed them against her forehead and started crying. I was perplexed, but she didn’t allow my wife to speak. Wiping her tears with her hands and blowing her nose at the free end of her sari she said: “Amma, why the gods choose to be so cruel to me? You know, my daughter-in-law was in the family way. Ayyo! Amma! She died ten days back while giving birth to a child. She was too young to die. I don’t know what sins I had committed to incur such a wrath of god.” She paused only to start crying again. I was greatly moved and my eyes too were welled- up with tears.
It took helluva time for Nanda to console the grief-stricken Kala. Swept by emotions, I asked Nanda to allow her resume work. A month went on and the cat has finally come out of the hat. When I learned that Kala has no daughter-in-law, and his only son is studying in 4th Std in a corporation school, I was flabbergasted. I went ballistic not with Kala, but only with Nanda for being so naïve and novice to allow a maid to rob our emotions. As was our wont, we did allow Kala to carry on her work at home though we know that our maid was having her last laugh at our helplessness.
All said and done, Kala is the ‘Queen of Blah … Blah’, an outstanding ‘Juggler of Stories’ whose power of the gab combined with her histrionic skills would always give credence to her ‘volley of lies’.
Image courtesy: Google