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Tuesday, October 23, 2007



A battered maid was just about to change Karuna’s Life.

It was a late afternoon in September, Durga Puja was round the corner and I had just woken from a siesta. I felt too lazy to get up and make tea for myself, so I waited for Maya – our maid. She was a kindly soul, very faithful and docile, but frail and almost bird-like. She’d come every morning and evening, with her curly black hair tied in a knot near her neck. I wondered what she was up to today and why she hadn’t yet come, was it Ramu ? Just the thought of the ruffian repulsed me. He had made Maya’s life miserable. He left Maya for another woman a year ago, but he still made demands on her. A dark, stocky fellow, Ramu had meanness pouring out of his beady little eyes.

Just as I was beginning to think of making that cup of tea myself, the phone rang. I answered,


“Do you know Maya Mondol?” A gruff voice asked from the other end.
“Yes, she’s our maid. Why? Who is this ?” I asked. There was no answer, but just a clattering and then Maya’s voice came feebly from the receiver, “Boudi, please help me. Ramu has beaten me very badly. I am at the Jadavpur police station.”

“How? What happened?” I asked, shocked and yet with a familiar feeling of anger against Ramu.

“I was returning from the milk depot and Ramu met me on the street. He asked for money, but when I refused to give him, he started beating me up. The people around stopped him and brought us here. Oh Boudi, I don’t know what to do ?”

“Wait there, I am coming,” I replied.
“Who was that? What happened? And where are you going?” demanded Suren, my husband.

“It was Maya, she’s at the police station, Ramu beat her up badly. I am going to get her,” I replied quickly, as I got my handbag.

“Are you mad, Karuna? You are going to the police station, that too for Maya?!”

“But Suren, she need help!”
“You are going nowhere, and that’s final,” declared Suren in a tone that said there was going to be no further discussion.

I made two cups of tea. I looked at Suren, sipping his tea noisily and enjoying himself, his sharp features silhouetted against the evening sky. The desire to drink my cup suddenly vanished.

Two days later, Maya returned to work. Her left eye was swollen and had turned an ill shade of blue-black. Her left side of jaw was also swollen. I felt so guilty; it was like I had let myself down. Ramu was still in Police custody and Maya dreaded his release. I consoled her and assured that I won’t let Ramu harm her in any way, that I will take care of her and keep her with us. That day, we talked at length and Maya cried a lot. The next morning, we were getting ready to leave for work, when suddenly there was a loud knock on the door and someone shouted outside. It was Ramu – angry and all set to fight,
“Where is my wife? I have come to take her home.”

I felt Maya crouching behind me, “ I am not your wife any more, you have a new wife now, you brute, I am staying with Boudi,” Maya cried in a shrill voice.

“Come with me Maya, I say! Durga is with child again. Who will cook and look after the other matters? Demanded Ramu furiously.

“Get out of my house this moment or I will call the police. Maya is not going with you,” I said firmly.

“Karuna, let Maya go.” It was Suren. When I didn’t, he came and forcefully shoved me out of the way and pushed Maya towards Ramu.

With a leer and a triumphant grin, Ramu grabbed Maya’s arm. Maya looked at me with an appeal in her eyes, which turned into despair soon. I looked at the tears that reflected the pain, hurt and helplessness that engulfed Maya and the pain in them made my heart ache.

That night, Suren made advances, perhaps to make amends but I felt repulsed.

“Still angry?” he asked trying to cajole and then added, “Forget it darling. Who is Maya, any way? Is she dearer to you than your husband?”

“Please, Suren, I don’t feel like it,” I tried to push him away, but it was futile.
The next day, I left a note for Suren:
“Maya is not dearer to me, Suren. But my self esteem is. You lack basic courtesy and sensitivity – the two things I value most. I am under no illusion that you hold me in any higher esteem than you do Maya.

I am not leaving you because of yesterday, last night, or for Maya. I have been contemplating this move for a long time. I am well aware that there are thousands of Mayas in this part of the world, including me, and I know that I do not have the power to change their fate but at least I can try to change a few. Take care.


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