“Kamala Bai Happy woman’s day” I greeted cheerfully as the maid entered our house.
Kamala Bai looked at me like I had said something stupid,
“Memsaab, today is not my happy birthday. Actually, I don’t even know when my happy birthday is.”, she smiled.
“No, no, Bai, I mean woman’s day. A day for celebrating women.”
“Is there such a day? So what do we women do? Cut cakes and party?” she asked wide eyed.
“Well..” I was not too sure what to say to her and was suddenly regretting my decision to wish her. How do I explain to her that it was a general celebration of respect, appreciation and love towards women, a celebration for women's economic, political and social achievements. Nevertheless, I tried,
“…no bai, we don’t cut cakes, but it is a day to show respect and love towards women for all that they do.”
“Who? I mean, who shows respect and love?” she asked
“People who know us…” I was getting lost in my own words.
“How? What do they do?” she went on.
“Errr.. ummm… my husband wished me today morning and brought me flowers. He may take me out to dinner; to thank me for all that I do for him and our family. Maybe he’ll buy me a little gift.”
“My husband didn’t come home in the morning”, she said as a matter of fact. “He must be lying on some footpath, drunk and unconscious. The lousy b*****d! If he comes home, he will skin me to death. I have hidden my salary so that he cannot find it. The children’s fees need to be paid. I cannot let him drink with my hard earned money.”
I was already regretting I had treaded on such a sensitive issue. This was such a common problem with these maids. Irresponsible husbands, financial difficulties, struggle to make both ends meet. And here I was talking of celebration. Why couldn’t I keep my mouth shut? Last month, she had been absent for a week and when she had joined back she looked badly bruised. It took a lot of coaxing for her to tell me it was her husband who had beaten her up. Not that I couldn’t guess it, as it was a routine affair. She chose not to do anything about it, and wouldn’t let me interfere.
So much for economic achievements! So much for love and respect! So much for celebrating women!! As a woman, I hadn’t done anything to lessen her plight, not that I could have. Women’s day or not, Kamala Bai was carrying on with life. Irrespective of whether or not, her contributions even qualified as an achievement.
I saw that she was still standing and ruminating on my words.
“Memsaab,” she said,”people who know us, show us love and respect on woman’s day…so what if my husband did not do it for me. You do. I am so happy you wished me.”
I let out a feeble smile. Happy that she thought I cared. As if on cue, she continued,
“Memsaab, please increase my salary, at least a little.. That would be a wonderful gift for me on this woman’s day.”
Boss would have been incredibly pleased about her acute business sense, I thought. That’s how you make your sales pitch waiting for the right opportunity; he would have said.
Could I refuse?