A couple of years ago a small house was rented out in our locale to two women. Within a matter of two weeks, eleven women started living on the premises. The ladies belonged to different age groups, religions and sects. They seemed to be from a neighbouring state. They did not look well off. That explained why they had decided to share one home. The neighbourhood was not exactly pleased with the idea of having such a large population of women amidst their midst. Everyone was on the vigil. After all one needed a concrete evidence to evacuate them from their rented property. However it appeared as if the women were way too decent and busy to take cognizance of the resentment that enveloped them.
There was a total absence of the much expected clamour, chaos and criminal mindset among the ladies. A month passed by. Whenever a maid availed leave, a desperate homemaker would rope in one of the ladies to help her out with her chores. Slowly but surely each one of the women was absorbed as a domestic helper.
They blended seamlessly as indispensable hands in almost every household. Their hardworking and non interfering nature made many of us curious to know more about them. Nevertheless they maintained a stiff upper lip contrary to their tribe.
When we celebrated a festival at our home, we invited the women to offer them the traditional Haldi Kumkum. The women seemed to be taken aback. One of the younger women called me aside and said, “Akka, do not offer us the Haldi Kumkum.” She thumbed out the sacred yellow thread from her blouse furtively and whispered, “All of us are either widows or abandoned women. The yellow thread each one of us wears does what our drunkard husbands did not do; — it protects us from the probing eyes of wicked men. We have come here to work and earn for the upkeep of our families back home. We do not expect anything else. ”
She walked back to her friends who were ready to leave. They reminded me of Wordsworth’s Solitary Reaper. Almost immediately, similar sentimental words from a famous Hindi song came drifted past. “Na main sapna hoon ya koi raaz hoon ek dard bhari awaaz hoon.” ( I am neither a dream nor a secret but a voice filled with melancholy).
I realised that these were worldly wise and independent women who had fenced themselves off intelligently and effectively. I appreciated the way they camouflaged their despair and forged ahead in life and invited them again with renewed fervour.