Wednesday, May 27, 2009

THE MAID

This seems to be the season of story telling. Many of my friends in the blogosphere have been been sharing inspiring and often moving real life experiences that have enriched all of us. Some have also written great 55-word stories that have been a joy to read. It is not easy at all to say it all in so few words and I admire their ability to do so brilliantly.

In December 2007, I had written a story about a poor, frail lady, a story that had some lessons for all of us, the most important one being that the finest values in life cannot be bought for all the money in the world. I am sharing it again now so that my many new friends and readers can also read this inspiring tale that is not a figment of my imagination.

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That wintry Saturday morning, Prashant cursed as he struggled to get out of his warm bed to open the door to the maid, Aasha, who had been working with them for a couple of years. His wife and kids had gone to his in laws, while he had to stay back to take care of long pending chores which could no longer be wished away. So, for two days, he would be at the mercy of the maid, having never ventured into the kitchen for anything more than a glass of water or to hunt for some goodies in the fridge!

Aasha was a very frail, quiet and unobtrusive lady who was rarely heard or noticed in the house. Yet, she was almost omnipresent because of the manner in which she applied herself to her job, taking on responsibility willingly and accomplishing all that was expected of her, without ever having to be told anything twice. She worked as a maid only to supplement the meager income of her husband so that they could educate and bring up their two unmarried children as well as they possibly could.

As she gave Prashant his second cup of tea, the doorbell rang and her son, a strapping lad working in a showroom and also doing his graduation through a correspondence course, appeared and told her that he had been telephonically informed by his maternal uncle that his grandmother had fallen quite ill and that she had to go to the village see her.

In a state of utter panic, Aasha told Prashant that she had to leave immediately to see her mother and would be back either in the evening or the next morning. Prashant, in panic too at the thought of having to completely fend for himself, told her that he feared that once she reached her maternal home, her return could be delayed by a number of days if her mother’s condition worsened. Therefore, he selfishly suggested that she should speak to her brother again and enquire whether she could come after a day or two. Aasha believingly agreed and continued with her work as if nothing had happened.

After she had left, her son came again and broke the real news to Prashant: his maternal grandmother had actually expired but he had hidden this from her mother as he did not want her to start weeping immediately and undertake a two hour journey by bus in that emotionally draining state. After about fifteen minutes, a relieved Aasha came to tell Prashant that she had spoken to her brother who had told her that her mother had been admitted in the hospital as she had caught a severe cold, and that it was not necessary for her to come immediately.

When Prashant gently asked her about the whereabouts of her son, she said that he had gone to work and that since he carried the mobile phone with him, she had called from a public phone. Silently, Prashant noted that she had not even requested him to let her make a call from his phone.

Prashant was in a real dilemma. Both her son and her brother had shown a tender respect for her feelings by not telling her the tragic truth. Prashant was feeling guilty for having asked her to ring up her brother because of which, Aasha was being deprived a visit to be with her mother one last time before her body was consigned to flames. Should he tell her the truth? After what was an agonizingly long moment, he decided that he had no right to inflict that pain on her. That right belonged to her family alone.

After another hour, Aasha appeared again, confused but not totally shattered. She said that her husband had come back from office and told her that his mother had passed away and that they had to leave immediately. Her expression showed that she was a bit doubtful as to who had really died. Prashant, relieved of his guilt at the development which would leave him literally helpless in the house for two days, could not bring himself to ask her as to when she would return.

The son, the brother and the husband all played their sensitive and caring parts in shielding the frail and very emotional Aasha from the inevitable trauma for as long as they sensibly thought they could. That was what being ‘family’ was really all about, wasn’t it?

The story does not end here.

Aasha came back late in the evening the next day. After getting off the bus, she did not go to her own house to meet her kids. She rushed first to her employer’s house to inform him that she was back and to make him that evening cup of tea which she knew he liked. Prashant, humbled by her almost maternal concern and sincerity, refused the badly needed cup.

That kind of dedication Aasha had was not due to the few hundred rupees that she was paid, he realized. It came from the core within, and was something that could not be bought for even a million dollars.