Jasoda Ben, a Gujrati woman in her early fifties with a loud and hoarse voice, mostly dressed up in trousers and some Indian style tops, under which she will wear her work clothes, so that she won’t lose much time to change for her work. She will mostly enter my home with cell phone in her ears and a black bag on her shoulders.
She is the cleaning lady that me and most of my neighborhood friends would call every now and then. She is our handy woman, she will do anything and everything at dollar twelve to dollar twenty per hour charges, depending on how you treat her and your home. If you are not patient enough to tackle her or if you keep your home filthy, she will punish you by charging her maximum, if you are none of the above you will be treated as her premium customer with dollar twelve per hour charges. From babysitting to toilet cleaning, cooking to laundry she will do everything with precision and speed.
But all her service also came with some hidden hassles; being a perfectionist in her job she will also enter the cluttered forbidden zones of your home and she will never forget to preach you on how to keep every nook and corner of your own home organized. And if there is anything lying at some corner unused, and anything here absolutely means anything, she will have no shame to ask for it.
So, her customers had divided opinions, some disliked her for her interference and demands and other needy ones will bear all her nuisance to get a clean home. I was a special category, who was just interested to write stories on cleaning ladies. I called her alternative Fridays in preparation of weekend get-togethers.
She would talk a lot in Gujrati Hindi mix, which was really challenging to understand. She would talk about other girls and their messy homes, about her daughter in law, which was no different than the rest of the daughter in laws; yeah you guessed it right, the worst woman of the world! She would talk about her husband in India who left her, about some court case on her son and a lot of other things. I hardly paid any attention to her talks, as my mantra was to nod on everything that she says without actually listening and to get the damn work done.
Last Friday when she knocked the door with her loud talks on her cell phone, I also heard a soft murmur with that, she came in with a little boy that day, a cute chubby cheeks boy, who looked almost four years old. She introduced him as her grandson. I was not happy to see this extra distraction during my paid hours, but I could not be rude to that little boy with innocent eyes.
After her usual Kem chho’s and maza ma’s greetings, she settled the kid on my couch and started her work, “in her work clothes”, she never wore very clean clothes but she had clear distinction between her work clothes and her formals. She was a professional.
The kid was sitting quietly on my couch, smiling all the time, he looked disciplined and quiet, unlike my son. I explained Jasoda Ben about her To-Dos and went back to my work. While working, I suddenly felt as if my son came back from school, the kid was playing with the same toys that my son plays with and he was making the same sounds. I took a sneak peek to see what the kid was doing, I found him involved in trains and trucks, just like my son. Jasoda Ben kept shouting on him but unlike her usual rough tone, she sounded very mild and loving to this little boy.
The little kid was doing everything like my son. Jasoda Ben, while doing her usual chores, when she was done talking about all the girls in the neighborhood and cursing her daughter in law, started telling me about that little kid. That kids parents, Jasoda Ben’s son and daughter in law had divorced and her son was fighting a court case for this kid. Up till here it was a common NRI story, to which I was nodding my head as usual without much interest.
Like all of you, even I thought that the divorced husband and wife must be fighting for the custody of this handsome kid. But there was a big twist in this little boy’s fate; being an illiterate, just like her, in legal terms, what I understood from her Hindi Gujrati mix was like this; his parents were fighting for the opposite, none of them wanted to take the child’s custody and the court hearing was almost at its last stage to send the kid to Salvation. In case you are lucky enough to not understand the meaning of Salvation, I have it goggled for you; it is a state division that serves the kids of low-income parents. It’s almost like an orphanage in our terms.
The kid by now was napping by himself on my couch, cuddled inside my son's blanket and a sword by his side; he looked like the most adorable thing in this world. I wanted to hug him tight and tell him that I loved him as much as I love my son. But Jasoda Ben’s story was not yet finished, as if what she told was not enough, I had some more to bear that Friday.
She told me that she is fighting for the custody now; she cannot let her only grandson go into Salvation. She, the maid who worked at twelve dollars per hour, with hardly some ten to twenty work hours a week, is fighting to prove that she does not fall into low-income category and she is eligible to take the custody of this kid. Whatever things that she picks from our houses, she sells it to her poor neighbors to earn some extra bucks to support herself and her grandson.
The definition of Jasoda Ben inside my brain neurons was completely changed in these three hours. The irritating, loud, interfering and demanding Jasoda Ben looked like an angel, an angel with a broom, an angel with a heart and an angel with the spirit to fight for this little boy.
She went home with a lot of unused toys, shoes, clothes and apart from extra bucks she earned a lot of respect that Friday.
And behind her, she left a clean home and a very heavy heart, that Friday.