The voice sounded faint on the other side of the phone.
Devyani was losing patience.
“What? Is the lady talking too much?” Shivam asked aside in a low voice. Devyani rolled her eyes at him.
She didn’t want to receive the call in the first place. The reason why she had handed over the phone to Shivam. However, the lady probably had insisted that made Shivam passed on the phone back to his wife.
They didn’t know her name, rather didn’t bother to know as well. Tara’s mother was her identity, which seemed enough for them to know of her.
“Could you please be a bit louder? … I can’t hear you properly”, Devyani almost screamed.
She had to end the conversation and get back to work.
The voice mumbled something, clearing her voice tried to speak again, a bit louder this time.
“Madamji, she’s like your daughter… don’t send her back to that agent. They will not care about her health and send her to somebody else’s place, and…” Tara’s mother couldn’t finish her lines, she started sobbing.
Devyani kept quiet; the phone got disconnected. Or maybe the lady didn’t know what to say more.
“You don’t worry, Devi, I’ll handle everything. As responsible people, we have informed her parent, but we can’t keep a sick girl to look after our child when we are away. The agent has cheated us, and he better replaces her with a proper, fitter maid. Or else I’ll drag him to the court. You just wait, let me call him, Shivam said.
It was barely a month that Tara was appointed as the nanny for the couple’s only three-year-old baby girl. Their previous maid, who was pretty old and seasoned, had to leave for her village for the forthcoming election. She wanted to cast her vote. More than that, it was a while that she had met her people, and the election gave her the opportunity to take a long, uncertain leave.
Devyani and Shivam were in a soup. They knew it would be difficult for them to survive, even for a day without someone to take care of their child. They didn’t want to send her to any daycare center, and they didn’t have anyone to take care of the child at home either.
Theirs being a nuclear family, with no other support system, had to find a solution fast. And they did.
Going by the reference from one of their friends, they approached Hiten, the agent of a maid agency. “We have fully trained, semi-trained, and untrained ones.. tell me your preference, and I’ll quote you the price accordingly,” that was how he pitched. The price he quoted for the first two was skyrocketing, but an untrained maid wouldn’t be able to do justice to the role of playing a perfect nanny, they feared.
It was not long that they moved into their new house and had spent a bomb setting it up. The budget being a bit tight for the couple, they thought of giving it a try with the third category. “ Don’t worry; I’ll take a day or two off and teach her the basics. I guess that would sort the problem initially,” Devyani sounded sure.
The girl who Hiten got along with him actually frightened them instead of bringing some relief. She barely looked to be in her late teens- skinny, short built with a faint voice. Devyani’s heart sank, “Bhaiya, do you think she’ll be able to pull through?”
“Oh yes, yes, Madamji, she looks thin but will be quick in learning and can handle the chores,” Hiten sounded confident.
Taking the lump sum amount as his commission, he left, leaving Tara with her new family.
Hiten was right; Tara was thin and looked weak but fast in picking up instructions and understanding her job. Devyani and Shivam felt relieved but temporary, that was.
In a couple of weeks, Tara showed progress in her work, but her health started showing signs of fatigue, followed by fever.
Shivam and Devyani were at their wits’ end. On the one hand, they were extremely tied up with work, and on the other, they had double challenges on the home front- first, to find someone to take care of their child, and simultaneously they had to get rid of a sick servant.
Shivam had started dialing Hiten’s number when Devyani stopped him.
“Don’t call Hiten, Shivam!” She said.
“Why? Do you have any other plans? I don’t think anything else would work…” Shivam waited for Devyani’s opinion.
Devyani pursed her lips and said, “Actually, Shivam, we never thought it this way. The lady, I mean Tara’s mother, was right. If we returned Tara, that Hiten fellow won’t do anything for her treatment, Shivam. He’ll just send her to another house to earn his commission. I’m sure that he has done the same before.”
“So what do you suggest? Should we ask him to refund our money instead of replacing her?” Shivam asked.
“No, Shivam, my point is not that. I mean, it’s not about money, it’s about the girl… the girls like her. Just see how they are put into a business like this. Shivam, I know we can’t change the system or fight against it. But let’s put a full stop here. We’ll take care of Tara; we will get her treatment done… otherwise, she won’t survive. That agent, this system is heartless, Shivam!”
“Are you sure, Devi? Aren’t you getting too emotional unnecessarily? You can’t hold yourself responsible for her fate… or for this system, as a matter of fact,” Shivam argued.
Devyani nodded, “No Shivam, WE are indeed responsible somewhere invariably. It’s for our need that this business exists, and the girls like Tara are exploited in several ways that perhaps we can’t even fathom …. A vicious cycle it is!”
Both remained quiet for some time.
“You know, that lady… Tara’s mom’s words are still ringing in my ears,” Devyani broke the silence, “My daughter is like your daughter, she said. The lady sounded so helpless for her child. The need for money, the reason for survival must have compelled her to sacrifice her children like this.” Devyani sighed.
Shivam came and sat next to his wife. Taking her hand in his, he said, “Probably you are right, Devi, it’s time to introspect. We commit sins unknowingly at times, but there’s always a scope for rectification… only if we listen to our conscience. So be it, as you please….”
“Madamji Mummy, I have served the dinner,” Tara’s voice was heard from behind.
They turned back.
Devyani was surprised to hear how she addressed her. “What did you just say, Tara?”
Tara replied, “That I’ve served the dinner.”
“ No, before that?” Devyani was eager to hear it again, to verify if she had heard something wrong.
“Madamji Mummy,” Tara said softly this time, looking down.
“Why this ‘Madamji Mummy’ Tara? You called Devyani ‘Madamji’, right?” Shivam was curious to know too.
Tara looked up; her eyes twinkled as she spoke, “I heard it all when you both were discussing about me… I’m sorry for all the trouble. But I’ll never leave this house unless you send me out. I’ll never trouble you.” Her voice choked. She continued, “ Madamji reminded me of my mother. Baby calls you Mummy, so … you reminded me of my Maa, Madamji .. so I thought of calling you Mummy too, Madamji Mummy…”
She didn’t have to say more. Devyani rushed and took Tara in her tight embrace. Both of them broke down in tears… tears of joy!
Shivam blocked the number that he was about to dial minutes ago.