Renu, the daughter of my maid, is 14 and loves accompanying her mother to her various ‘offices’. Renu believes her mother is really popular – while some ‘gift’ her clothes, others give exotic food.
She also thinks that her mother’s work looks easy and remains confused about why she cribs about it all the time.
Renu loves talking to ‘big’ girls in particular. They wear ‘foreign’ clothes and talk in a way that she only sees on TV at one of the other houses her mother works at. She loves it when they talk in front of her so that she gets to be a part of their world.
One such girl she was talking to was wearing a very large T-shirt with really ‘short jeans’.
Renu instantly thought that like her, this didi wears borrowed clothes as well. Given how outspoken and inquisitive Renu is – and while her mother washed dishes in the kitchen – she asked the didi where she got this shirt from.
The girl told Renu that it was her ex-boyfriend’s shirt; ‘ex’ meaning ‘forgotten’ and ‘boyfriend’ being someone she once loved. Renu asked her whether it was a very expensive shirt or whether she still missed him.
The girl answered, “Sometimes, when people leave, they don’t like taking everything with them, and choose to leave something or keep something to hold as a memory of a particular place and time. I wear it because it’s a very comfortable shirt – which woman’s clothes often aren’t. I’m also very bad at letting go and whenever I wear it, I feel my memory of him pass away with every wash.”
Renu had always thought that the world these didis inhabited was very fairy-tale like. But this story was something she could relate to, she saw that this didi had the same sadness on her face that her mother sometimes had – especially when Renu had to sleep on an empty stomach.
A confused Renu showed the blood-stained skirt she was wearing to the girl. She told her, “Like you, I also get many free clothes; some are torn, some stained, some are very tight but I still keep them.”
The girl said, “How do you feel wearing them?”
Renu said, “They look so expensive, so I don’t mind dirty clothes as long as I get to keep them. I was reading a book the other day and there was a picture of soil and its layers. My mother told me that her and me are the sub-soil, cleaning toxic pollutants and releasing nutrients to the outer world.”
The girl told Renu that she was a smart kid who has a bright future ahead. She asked Renu the ritual ‘what she wants be when she grow up’ question.
“An actress,” came the prompt reply, and Renu skipped away, singing ‘Apna Time Aayega’.
Shailja Gusain is an aspiring writer/translator based in Delhi. She reads to be more empathetic to her counterparts no matter what country, age or identity.
Featured image credit: Pariplab Chakraborty