Due to my husband’s transferable job relocating in every two to three years had become a second nature to me. I was always like in a ‘Ready, Set and Go’ mode. With every move I was getting better at adjusting in new environment and being flexible in each situation. Still one aspect of relocation always haunted me and that was finding a good household help.
So once again as soon as my husband announced another move to cosmopolitan city of Bangalore, my heart felt that familiar knot. I dreaded interviewing and trying one help after another till I settled on someone. But what needs to be done has to be done, so I braced myself for this particular situation.
As soon as we moved to our two bedroom apartment, I called the security guard and lined up a few maids for interview.
Next morning as soon as my husband left for office and my one year old son was still sleeping, I heard the doorbell. I didn’t expect any one at such an early hour, dragging myself from the bedroom to the main door seemed like a gigantic task, I cursed under breath.
From the glass door I saw a thin frame, small face, just like a baby but without any baby fat on it. Dark complexion with perfect white teeth and gentle eyes looked back at me. She saw the confusion in my eyes and I saw gradual understanding in those gentle eyes.
” Madam, security guard sent me. You wanted someone for house work? ” In her half broken English, little bit of Tamil and in some small words of Hindi she tried her best to explain her purpose of visit and same time kept saying sorry to bother me at such an early hour.
For the first time in all the relocation so far I liked someone so instantly. I was impressed with her mannerism and gentle ways.
” What’s your name?” I asked her while ushering her to come inside and offering a chair. She seemed so fragile and yet there was an alertness in her.
“Saubhaagya.”she offered shyly.
” Do you know the meaning of your name?” I smiled.
She nodded and said, “The lucky one!!” Somehow I sensed a deep sadness in her tone and her eyes suddenly seemed dark and painful. No need to say I hired her immediately.
Over the month as she stayed with us, as we talked over a cup of tea I understood her sadness. Sometime I wonder how could someone be so opposite to their name. ” Saubhaagya… her life, her destiny was nothing like her name. Being raised in poverty she had seen all the hardships of life. Getting married also didn’t bring any respite rather it put more pressure on her in the form of a drunkard husband. All the beatings, abusive language and constant harassment had become an integral part of life even during her two pregnancies.
” But why do you suffer like this Saubhaagya , you are the earning member of your family just go for a divorce.” I reasoned with her after one such episodes.
Her pale eyes looked at me and then to my son, that time a mother understood the silent wish of another mother. After all, many educated and financially independent women take all such crap from their partners so that their kids have both mother and father in their life. Though sometime I wonder if it’s worth or not. How could a kid be expected to grow normally in such a stressed environment, what kind of learning it would be? But such worries are for rich people, poor people like ‘Saubhaagya’ just have to deal with one day at a time, one meal at a time.
I tried to help her best by introducing her to my another friend who was looking for a nanny cum household help. Instantly Saubhaagya clicked with my other friend too. Between two of our houses and 2 more previous ones, her financial situation started getting better. I suggested her not to mention extra income to her husband but keep it with me and I will save or invest on her behalf for her future. At least till I am there. She liked the idea very much and a bond was made that day… much more than just a hired help, more than just a person in need , Saubhaagya started occupying my mental space more and more… I started feeling responsible for her.
Life seemed peaceful for a while, me and my friend both were blessed to had Saubhaagya as our household help. Though fragile looking she was very quick, worldly-wise, efficient and clean person. I started referring her to more and more people. Now she was managing 6-7 houses with the help of her eldest daughter and she was also a copy of her mother. My one year old son loved to play with mother and daughter, giving me much-needed break.
That was a lazy monsoon day. I was not in a mood to get up from the couch but constantly ringing of my phone forced me to put down the remote and grab the phone from bedroom where I put it on charge. Looking at 8 missed call of my good friend where Saubhaagya was working as nanny cum household help, I felt little anxious.
“Hello there? How are you?” I tried to be sound cheerful.
” Where were you ? I tried to call you so many times!!” I could sense panic in her voice.
” Hey what happened? Everything all right?” My concern grew.
” Could you please come over? I need to tell you something really important and urgent.” She sounded so edgy that as soon as I put the phone , I picked up my son and went to meet her.
When she opened the door, worry was written all over her face. Being a mother I instantly asked about her son who was little younger than mine. What she shared with me after that made me equally worried, concerned and at the same time puzzled and conflicted too.
She told me that her son was suffering from cough since long and whatever medicine she was giving and all other alternate treatment she was trying was somehow not working. So she met a specialist and after undergoing through many test she came to know that her son might have been exposed to Tuberculosis. Doctor immediately put him on a two and a half month preventive dose. She told me that she and her husband were very particular about their kid and was pretty careful so they couldn’t understand how and when he got exposed to this dreadful disease. Doctor also told them that it’s not just one day exposure, looks like he has been exposed for a long time. I could understand her concern as a mother and was really sympathetic towards her. Still I felt there was much more to the whole situation.
” Did you notice anything odd about Saubhaagya?” She asked me.
” What about Saubhaagya?” I couldn’t understand the sudden shift in conversation.
” Did you notice how many times she took a leave since last month ?” She pointed out.
” Yes I did notice but her daughter was there instead of her and I think she is over burdened now a days with more houses to work with…. So I didn’t pay attention.” I admitted honestly.
Then she shared the shocking news to me that it is Saubhaagya who is suffering from Tuberculosis and due to her constant exposure to her kid now he is in immediate danger as she was his nanny too.
Too shocked to hear this, I asked her if she made a mistake. Somehow I couldn’t imagine it for Saubhaagya. I felt conflicted between my concern for my friend’s kid and Saubhaagya’s bad luck as she had to go through such dreadful disease. My friend told me that she and her husband talked to Saubhaagya and she started crying, saying again and again that it’s not Tuberculosis. It’s just an infection and she will get cure soon. She also told me that they even offered her to help financially provided she take a leave till she gets cured. Her husband offered her to take to the doctor himself but she denied completely.
” So what are you gonna do now?” I was perplexed with this sudden turn of event.
” I have to let her go obviously!! You should do the same, for your own kid’s sake.” Her concern was genuine and though I was still in shock at Saubhaagya’s destiny, worry for my own son’s health started engulfing me too.
After consoling her for some time I came back with a heavy heart. I was feeling torn between my responsibility towards my own son and my duty as a human being. I wanted to help her so much!! Yet concern for my son’s safety was weighing me down.
Next day when she came, her eyes were red and swollen. She told me that my friend decided to let her go and if I do the same she will understand my concern too as my kid obviously is my first priority.
I couldn’t say a single word but just hugged her tightly. Tears running from both our eyes. I tried to talk to her about her disease, offered her my help but she completely shut down. She tried to keep her brave face on but her eyes betrayed her true feelings ….again I saw the same sadness, pain and hurt which I observed when we first met. It was so unbearable that I just gave her full month salary, some clothes , some extra money besides what I was saving on her behalf.
Once again I hugged her tightly and told her to go through treatment and once she is cured please do come back…” Don’t even think twice, if I am here Please come back to me.” She nodded silently and gave me one last look. That look kept haunting me years after years.
After that I tried other household help too but could never find ‘Saubhaagya’ again. After few months with a heavy heart I said good-bye to my friends as we relocated again. During all these months my eyes kept looking for her but it looked like that she just vanished from the face of earth.
As fate had it few months back we relocated again to Bangalore and coincidentally moved to same community. I met few old friends who were still living in that community. It was a good feeling to see them again. As I was walking by after visiting one of my old friend’s house suddenly a familiar face popped up on the opposite side of street. ” No it can’t be!! ” I told myself but here she was…’Saubhaagya’ in flesh and blood, as alert as always, looking healthy than before… she had put on some weight too!! Her eyes also gave that flicker of recognition which was suddenly replaced by hurt and pain again. All these years I felt so guilty and concerned about the whole situation, there was so much I wanted to tell her, I wanted to tell her how relieved I felt after seeing her healthy and well but I couldn’t. My own guilt stopped me from going ahead and hugging her one more time. Instead of that I silently prayed to God that she remain happy and healthy.
This experience of life taught me that sometime even if you have the best intention in world it becomes difficult to choose … sometime your own priorities, situations limits you. Nobody is to blame for that and it doesn’t feel right at times but it is what it is!!
Author’s note: This story is based on a true life incident and explores the vicious circle of poverty.
Image credit – https://i.ytimg.com/vi/MceG0E3thnU/maxresdefault.jpg