"Having a meaning behind your chores and tasks does help getting them done quickly." — Nandita Ghosh.
"Kittu! Kittu! Where have you gone and died?! Bring your useless ass in the kitchen, now!",
The yell was so shrill that grandpa moaned in his sleep, tossing and turning on his wooden charpoy to get a better position. Once or twice he twitched as if ready to wake up, but then went back to his happy slumber.
Kittu sighed deeply.
He was tired of his daily chores, and having read a rubbish morality lesson in an old newspaper about giving meaning to banal household chores only made him want to shred the paper into pieces. The one thing which kept him from acting his frustration on the dratted newspaper was to avoid making more mess than the children in the household dutifully created for him to clean up. The little beasts has always relished watching Kittu slog away day and night at their mercy.
Why was the universe so unfair?
He abandoned the bundles of old newspapers and battered books and quickly ran to the kitchen, his Rashmi madam wouldn't stop roaring at the top of her lungs unless he completed her instructed tasks.
And he wasn't very fond of a grumpy grandpa who has been screeched awake from his much needed( doctor thinks otherwise ) sleep. One of these days, in pure spite, Kittu would surreptitiously slip a note in the doc's suitcase complaining that grandpa won't jog around and be active as he was prescribed in the last appointment. That perhaps would quell a bit of his resentment towards the unjustness of the world.
When he reached the kitchen, Rashmi madam was busy bullying her husband for paying the doctor's fee as it was the older brother's turn to take care of that month's bills.
Mr. Joshi stood in a dignified manner and told his wife to not interfere into things outside of the kitchen.
Not so dignified words to say to your wife, piqued Kittu's opinion.
"Women can do things that doesn't concern the kitchen. And its one's duty to look after their parents once they are old.", Kittu told the couple in a preachy tone before taking up the boring task of peeling boiled potatoes for the lunch.
He was aware that both pairs of eyes were on him, but didn't dare to match their stares.
He could imagine how his mother would feel if his big mouth robbed him of his work, what with his father's dilapidating kidney ailment and regularly skyrocketing expenses. She would cry bitterly in despair until he secured another job, which itself was a tough task as people these days tend to keep registered servants for their houses.
So where would underage poor people like him end? Unless they were comfortable enough to beg, which Kittu became too proud to do after he turned ten and found himself perfectly capable of earning his food.
Mr. Joshi threatened him, "Next time you open you mouth in our personal matter, you will be out of this house before you could utter the word 'sir'. Am I clear, boy?"
Kittu nodded, his eyes still casted down, and said, "Yes, sir."
He wouldn't apologize, darn his damn job!
It didn't matter that much as his master left without another word. Kittu heard the front door bang extra-loudly. When he was fairly convinced that the awful man was out of the house, he looked up to his Rashmi madam.
He wanted to say a number of things, wanted to ask loads of questions, but the expression on her face warned him not to step out of line again.
He was subdued immediately, nonchalantly humming a familiar tune under his breath as he peeled the scalding hot potatoes. The resulting scorch on his hands complimented the fire burning inside him. If one thing was similar between him and his Rashmi madam, it was their pride. She was too proud to say anything to him, and he was too proud to give out help where it wasn't asked for.
Why he was totally happy to preach about when it wasn't encouraged, was beyond his understanding as of now. Nonetheless, he kept scorching his hands in order to calm down the inferno flaring inside his heart.
"Stop! You will burn your hands, then give excuses for a slack.", came her curt advice. She usually disguised her concerns into a scolding to keep up the pretenses.
He hid a smile and confessed, "It helps me with my towering anger."
She continued to eye him, a strange far-away look stretched on her face. One of her many habits, falling here and there into deep thinking periods before coming out with a start when one of the beasts manage to make a mess. It was mostly the boy who did things, the girl was not as devilish as her brother.
She turned away suddenly. He could tell she was hiding the moisture in her eyes, which again, wasn't new to him.
He could sense her trapped soul, just as clearly as he could feel his. The way she worked day after day to impart her duties, people around her foolishly ignorant of the utter waste of talent they were responsible for as another woman was forced to leave her prestigious job, to live as mundane a life as poor people like him were forced to breath in. He sometimes felt more sorry for her than for himself.
The next few days after that weren't much different for Kittu, except that he felt really smug about not being on tenterhooks in front of Mr. Joshi as the awful man might have expected from him. It didn't pay well for being a sassy ass when you were a servant, but Kittu liked to indulge himself a little for the fun of it.
Miss Priya Joshi was about to land in the house as the summer vacations were upon them. Perhaps he could flirt with her again, she sometimes flirted back but other times remained scarce around him. Her father, the older Joshi brother, was quite strict, yet it wasn't enough to hold Kittu's daring horses into check. What could one expect from two fifteen year old in proximity, ready to entertain each other's adolescent urges.
Priya often said that his words were so beautiful he could become a poet, or a book author. He religiously read books and journals in the house's library whenever he was freed from work. He liked reading and writing, but liked it more when Miss Priya praised his ventures.
He used to work in a government school for a year when he was eleven, where he taught himself to read and write his alphabets. But his interest for the actual reading was bloomed only after he came to the Joshi household. He wasn't ashamed to learn the basics along with the children, nor was he ever abashed by his Rashmi madam for asking questions to her regarding his studies. Within four years, he had learnt a great deal, with grandpa almost labeling him as a prodigy case.
At first, he worked at the Joshi's only in day shifts. But after a few weeks of his arrival, Priya's mother died and the twin-beasts were becoming increasingly difficult to control for the solitary woman left in the house — his Rashmi madam. So he was given a permanent room to live there and help. And to his huge disappointment, Priya was sent to her school's girls' hostel.
Once in a while, he visited his parents. He occasionally day-dreamt of himself inviting Priya to his home and her coming there to meet his Ma. Papa wouldn't be too happy if a gori madam's daughter visited their most modest accommodations, which would make a beautiful fodder for the society so that people could talk behind their backs. Still, Kittu very much wanted to show Priya his world. After all, she was his only 'girl' friend, and his first crush.
He giggled at his silly musings as he tugged fresh bedsheets on Priya's bed.
The door bell rang, it was time.
He dashed down, narrowly eluding a slip on the stairs.
She was already inside, being hugged and patted by her family members. At last, she turned to him and waved her hand enthusiastically with a cheerful, "Hi! Kittu."
He smiled and returned, "Hello."
Grandpa told her, "I brought chocolate bonbons for you."
"Really? You never forget that!"
Kittu cleared his throat, "The twins finished every piece. So no bonbons are left for you..."
Rashmi madam playfully nudged his elbow before saying, "Stop pranking. Priya, I hid half of them for you.", she turned to Kittu, "You know where they are kept?"
He nodded sagely, his eyes twinkling in mischief, "I will bring them."
Kittu wanted to talk to Priya alone, he wanted to ask about school, and hostel life, and the new books she read that year, and so much more. He didn't get a chance to do any of the things until much later, before which three major things happened in surprised succession.
That night, the atmosphere at the dinner table turned from joyful to sore in a matter of a few heated arguments.
"But I want to go there too, just like all my friends are going! Can't you understand that, Dad?", Priya asked in controlled fury, Kittu could see how she was struggling not to shout hoarse at her father.
"You can't go, and that is final."
Nobody said anything after that. The twins were terrified into silence, Priya left without finishing her food and everyone else completed the dinner between half-hearted conversations. Kittu waited for the family to dissipate to the living room before clearing up the table.
A few hours flew by, with him completing the last chores of the day. At last, he gathered up the water bottles to be delivered to each room before the occupants go to bed.
He quietly walked in the eerily silent hallway on the first floor, knocking twice on subsequent doors and giving out the bottles before moving to the next one. Up on the second floor, he walked to the half opened door of Rashmi madam's room.
It sounded like the couple was bickering. Kittu obscured himself into the corner's darkness to eavesdrop. He thought eavesdropping was the most important skill which a servant must acquire, it could come handy plenty of times.
"I couldn't have done anything, when Sanjay didn't want to send his girl to that blasted pajama party.", Mr. Joshi was saying to his wife.
A pause, then Rashmi madam retorted, "She wants to have a little fun over the vacations, what is the harm in it? You all could be lenient with her, she is just a kid!"
"She is a growing woman of this household, we can't have her frolicking around in other people's houses."
Nothing else could be heard after that. Mr. Joshi barged out of the room, probably going out for a few drinks.
Meanwhile, in that dark corner, Kittu's blood boiled furiously. He couldn't believe the audacity of that awful man! Obviously, he was talking about Rashmi ma'am, how according to his perception she too used to 'frolic around' when she was a working woman.
It was simply outrageous!
Before any sense of sanity could stop him, he crisply knocked at her door. He has had enough of this madness!
Her red eyes shot up to meet his.
"What do you want now?", she snarled.
He said, "I want to come inside, let me."
"No! Just go away."
"Or I will kill that vile man, the choice is yours."
"Have you gone insane, boy?", she walked to the door and checked the hallway, it was clear of any other being.
Roughly, she pulled him inside with a bark, "Come!", and softly shut the door.
Her appearance was haphazard, just the way it became after each day's labor.
His rage was so high that for a few minutes, he couldn't say anything. They both stood there face to face, waiting for the other to say something.
She didn't say anything.
In a wild fit of tantrum, he ceased her upper arm and directed her in front of the mirror. It showed her rugged reflection, silent tears rolling down her cheeks.
"Look at this woman, look at her and try to recognize her."
He stalked the length of the room and snatched down a photo frame off the green wall, it was of a woman in a business suit, totally different from the Rashmi madam he worked for.
Placing the frame adjacent to her reflection in the mirror, he displayed the stark contrast, making her cry harder than ever.
Her tears propelled him to say more, "Do you see any similarities between the two, because I don't."
Kittu's eyes burned with unshed tears, he rammed the frame in her hand and rushed out of there, two floors down and out in the backyard where he had his room.
Soundly shutting the door behind himself, he sank down on the floor and cried out his anger and grief for God know how many hours.
The next day, when he reached the kitchen, Rashmi madam was absent. Kittu proceeded to start the cleaning ritual, moving jerkily around the space. His muscles were sore from falling asleep on the floor last night, he felt exhausted to the core.
Seconds, minutes or hours might have passed but he kept up with his work. He was so distracted that he finished up with preparing breakfast on autopilot, his mind directing his routine work. He spoon tasted everything to make sure all was well. The food turned out to be better than he could manage with his mind fully functional.
Suddenly, Rashmi madam walked inside and told him, "Come out, I have called upon a meeting."
He couldn't believe his ears, never in his years of working there had he been invited to a family meeting. Though he generally eavesdropped all the juicy tidbits on his own.
And with the way his Rashmi madam's face glowed with excitement, his own heart started racing fiercely. Something was about to happen, his instincts screamed at him.
In the living room, everybody were present except for the children who were playing 'bat-ball' in the lawn with their plastic cricket kit. Kittu smiled at the familiar term used by children in his country's streets to refer to cricket. India was crazy for the sport.
People exchanged greetings before settling down. Rashmi madam stood in front of the party, her eyes raking on each member before stopping on Kittu who stood in the corner, she smiled sweetly at him.
He smiled back.
Finally, she announced, "I am looking for a new job, I want to start working again."
Pin drop silence echoed around. Kittu was flabbergasted, and so were others in the house.
Then, the awful man, Mr. Joshi exclaimed in astonishment, "We never discussed this!"
Rashmi madam smiled, "I am discussing it now."
Mr. Joshi comically sputtered, "But...but....", he too stood up, "This can't happen. What about the children?"
"I will hire a babysitter.", it was as if Rashmi madam had rehearsed the prompt answers a thousand times the night before.
Her husband said petulantly, "No. I won't let you do that. My children won't be brought up by a babysitter."
Rashmi madam smiled again, "I am so glad to hear about your concerns, Rakesh. In that case, you can sit at home and manage the children while I could go out to earn our living. Isn't that a fantastic idea!"
Priya hid a chuckle behind her hands at that, Kittu was on the verge of collapsing in a fit of laughter. Grandpa watched the debate with an air of interest, while Priya's father seemed aloof about the whole topic.
Mr. Joshi looked helplessly at his brother, asking for help. Priya's father remained tongue-tied.
Kittu cleared his throat, "Can I say something, grandpa?"
He knew too well that grandpa won't stop him like others.
Grandpa asked him, "What is it?"
Kittu smiled genially, "I will work extra hard and do all the chores while Rashmi madam goes to her office." He stopped himself from punching the air in triumph.
Priya spoke, "I will also help as much as I can when I am here."
Looking at them both, grandpa too joined in their little support group, "I can help with the children."
That settled the matter.
Grandpa was so different from his two children, Kittu was warmed at the heart to see the old man willing to forgo his laziness in order to help Rashmi madam.
Kittu's eyes met Rashmi madam's across the living room, she silently thanked him with a shining face. He nodded back in elation.
He learnt a thing that day, which he could never forget — however hard it might get, he would always be ready to divulge his share of chore to make the universe a little less unfair.