As a vet in uniform once my husband was posted at an establishment where both army personnel and civilians worked together. He was allotted a huge big bungalow, and after sometime my daughter and I joined him. Thousands and thousands of acres of agricultural land was available there to grow food grains and green fodder for the horses, mules, and donkeys, bred and reared to be deployed for various activities by the Army. Many civilians were employed there both on temporary as well as permanent basis basically to work on the agricultural lands. But those who could not do the hard labor were used as helpers in officer’s bungalows, offices and god owns as gardeners, cooks, sweepers, chowkidars and to do other odd jobs which were comparatively lighter jobs. The temporary laborers were provided with a mandatory day off in a month and on that day another worker would be detailed as a replacement to that particular officer’s house.
One day our cook, who was a temporary laborer, was on his monthly day off. In his place a young sixteen year old boy was sent to our house who reported to us at eight in the morning. One look at him made me realize that he had no idea of what cooking is all about and that I would have to do that day’s cooking. I made him wash the vessels, and I made the breakfast. After we had breakfast, I gave the boy something to eat which he gobbled up very fast as if he hadn’t eaten for the last two days. Next I asked him to clean the kitchen, wash his hands, cut the vegetables and wash them too. As he was cleaning the kitchen I had to go in to the main house which was few yards away from the cook house. It might have taken about ten minutes for me to come back to the kitchen and to my horror I found the boy taking out cut lady’s finger pieces from water. The fellow was perspiring may be out of fear to see the lady’s fingers coming out of water in a sticky string like mess. Though I felt like yelling at him, I couldn’t say any thing after looking at the poor fellow’s frightened face.
I decided to make him cut some other vegetable when I found one elderly gentleman standing near our house and enquiring about this boy from our watchman. He came in and requested me to send the boy with him as the boy’s mother had expired. Since this boy was her eldest son he had to perform her last rites. I asked the boy to leave every thing and go with his relative. Before he left I enquired whether the boy’s mother died suddenly, or was she ailing for some time? The boy said that his mother had been ill for the last fifteen days and as they did not have enough money to run the house, he could not take her to the doctor and had to come to work though she was very ill. The elderly relative said that the woman’s condition deteriorated soon after the boy left for work and she died. Giving him some money I sent the boy home.
After that I got busy with my cooking, prepared lunch, laid the table, and called the woman who stayed in our servant quarters to wash the vessels and clear the kitchen. Once she finished her work, I started taking out the dishes from the kitchen into the dining room. Suddenly I found the helper boy standing near the kitchen and was taken aback. In a raised voice I demanded to know why the hell he had come back with in two hours. I asked if his mother alive by any chance. Very quietly he told me that his mother was no more and after performing the last rites of his mother he has come back straight to work. Since he was a temporary worker and he hadn’t worked even for half a day, what if I reported this matter to my husband who was in charge of the muster roll of the agricultural laborers? He might not have received that day’s pay and he might even have been dismissed from the services. His calm reply churned my insides and I felt miserable to know how money rules the poor people’s lives. I asked the boy to go home, have a bath, mourn for her, pray for the peace of her departed soul and look after his siblings.
Though I sent him away that day, the reality was that the very next day he had to report to duty or else he would not get his wages. Moreover I had not done any great favor by sending him away, as some one else would have done my work that day and the days to follow. His face and words haunted me for quiet some time. I can never forget that rustic boy’s sincerity and can’t help comparing him to today’s maids who bunk at the drop of a hat and don’t bother to inform the employer. They might have their genuine reasons for bunking but the kind of sincerity the simple, illiterate, ignorant boy, from a remote village had is difficult to find. I feel that maybe the world is still in one piece because of such good people.