Today, the cook had not shown up and the cleaning lady was on leave. It was going to be a busy day, so I had called my old maid, Maya, for help. I reached home early at around 5:30pm and as agreed, Maya came with her sister, Vatsa, and the two together took care of cooking and cleaning as I continued working from home. They called for me as they got ready to leave. I tried to pay them their due, ‘tried’ because the lady refused to take money, “Bai tumcha karza aahe aamchya war. Tilaa dya, tilaa garaj aahe” (Madam, we are indebted to you.  You can pay her as she needs money), she pointed to her sister. “Karza vegada aani kaam vegada” (Lets not mix your loan and what is due to you) I told her and forced her to take the money. Vatsa readily took the money, “Tai thodi madad hote, naahi tar tumhi Priyachya babanaa odhakhta”. I nodded, the two of them took leave promising to come over again if there was a need.

The conversation got me thinking.

Maya’s only daughter, Anita, worked at my place for 2-3 years before she got married.  I helped them financially and with gifts to get her married.  The help that came from various quarters wasn’t sufficient to fulfill their heart’ desire to wed their only daughter in style, so they took additional loan from me promising to repay me gradually.  For that they feel indebted to me till date.  Though they have not been able to repay the loan, Maya always comes over whenever I need help.  We have a established protocol, I call her husband and she is there at my house around 5-5:30pm.  Maya can take care of cleaning, washing etc., but for cooking she always gets her sister Vatsa.  Vatsa has four young daughters, a drunkard, gambler for a husband who is mostly out of work.  Vatsa is almost bringing up her daughters single-handedly.  Naturally bare necessities score over schooling.  The two older girls, Priya and Priti often accompanied Anita to my place to play with my daughter.  It ached my heart to see them out of school, so I convinced Vatsa to enroll them in the Municipal school in their basti and promised to take care of all their education related expenses.   Vatsa got them enrolled in school, but she does not think much about it or may be she is beyond thinking about it.  When she comes for work, the school is safe place for them as opposed to home where her husband lies drunk, they get a meal, milk – so she is okay.  But, she is not really convinced that we will always take care of the school expenses.  She believes we working, educated women have our own loafty ideas on educating girls and hence we are doing it to please ourselves.  Neither do I try to convince her, I’m just glad she has been able to resist her husband’s demands of sending the girls to work.  Vatsa, keeps worrying about her daughters’ marriage, though they are not even in their teens.  ‘Would she find someone like me to help when it comes to their marriage’, she often wonders aloud.

If I care to do the math, I have probably spent more on Vatsa’s daughters’ school fees, school uniforms, occasional gifts on festivals etc.  While Vatsa is grateful, she doesn’t really think about it as any sort of support.  Maya on the other hand feels indebted to me even today, 2-3 years after her daughter’s marriage.  For them, being able to marry their daughter is so much more important than getting a decent education for her.  I’m certainly not saying I want Vatsa to feel grateful or anything, its just that their attitude towards their daughters makes me really sad and brings back some really unpleasant memories of my village some 20 years back.

I remember another similar case.

When the little one was born one lady, Sunanda, used to come and give the little one and myself a massage.  Sunanda had a sixteen year old daughter who was extremely good looking, interested in studies and she also did very well in her school.  No wonder the lady was perpetually worrying about her.  Gauri wanted to study and become a nurse.  But, Sunanda was always faced with a steady stream of suitors wanting to marry her daughter – some from the neighbourhood, some proposals forwarded by relatives etc.  Though Sunanda maintained she wanted to let Gauri study, I knew the proposals tempted her to marry off Gauri.  When she came for work, leaving her daughter all alone at home, it constantly worried her.  Her daughter expressed her desire to go to a boarding school.  I was impressed by the girl and hence tried hard to find such a school.  Luckily, I found out that one of my colleague’s mother-in-law was a Pricipal of such a school.  I did a lot of followups on my own and assured Sunanda that Gauri would get through.  While I was pursuing her admission with single-minded focus, Sunanda got another proposal from a relatively wealthy family.  The groom was a middle-aged man more than twice her daughter’s age.  One day Sunanda casually asked me if I would help her financially if she wanted to get Gauri married to this person.  I remember losing my temper and telling her that I was ready to bear the expenses for a couple of years if Gauri went to boarding school, however, if she was contemplating getting her married to this man who was almost her father’s age, she should forget about getting any help from me.  On the other hand the admission procedure for boarding school had to be completed, but I was unsure if Sunanda was really serious about it.  I did not have to wait for long to find out.  Sunanda stopped coming to work suddenly.  Lateron, I learnt from other maids that she got Gauri married and that she was cross with me as I had refused to help her.

Even today, whenever I remember Gauri I have this strange, sad feeling of helplessness.  Of not being able to do anything about it.  So many years, so many generations, but things just refuse to change.