Portrait of a Maushi

Portrait of a Maushi

By Malkeet Kaur. 

There were immobile bees on the table. Their stings burnt out.

And a tiny black bat.
Lying lifeless upside down on the floor.

It was the bat which freaked Rashmeet out when she had decided to seek the solitude of the room in the abandoned part of the school building- a room where stacks of old answer sheets were wedged ceaselessly in the termite ridden cabinets.

Amidst the occasional pigeon’s eggs.
And the cats’ litter crawling around  with half opened eyes.

But it was the bat as a last breath oozed out of its body that made Rashmeet shiver. The bees seemed harmless.

Sometimes dead creatures were capable of rousing the deepest of fear too. Rashmeet felt disgusted at her weakness.

She had called her parents to inform them she was waiting in school to complete her extra hour. And made a direct beeline to this deserted room to evaluate undisturbed.

Calling parents to inform them about her whereabouts and every move  at thirty-two bothered her.

A stirring noise at the door brought her out of her reverie. And was immediately relieved to notice the presence of Sarawati* Maushi* – marching towards the room in her signature style. Carrying the broom on her shoulders as a sword.
Sarawati Maushi was the oldest maid in school. And full of annoying  mannerisms that would be barely tolerable in someone younger. But when she disturbed in the middle of the transaction just to preach students in Marathi* about the importance of cleanliness,  even the most intimidating teachers felt helpless. Her annoying drawl-

Kachara taku nakka (Don’t litter) – was almost forgiven when she muttered in Marathi under her breath –

I laboured hard for this school… carried bricks on these stooping shoulders to make these walls sturdy. Why?  For this day when no one can pay a respect to an old lady. One day I will leave…

Saraswati Maushi reported to school before others… and left late. And in between she toiled hard at whatever caught her fancy – cleaning toilets,  mopping floors,  interfering with the teachers busy teaching to advocate for the students standing outside the classrooms as a punishment. She would order the teachers to allow the students inside. And the same students who otherwise enjoyed playing pranks on her,  appealed to her for interference on their behalf.

She was reed thin as she hardly bothered to eat. The visible part of her wrinkled belly seemed stuck within. She was left to fend for herself after the passing away of her only son due to jaundice. She stayed in slums a stone’s throw away.  Rashmeet would often find her frequenting the local ‘Wada Paav’* stalls,  counting coins after an enquiry about the price. Once she saw Rashmeet and handed over her tinkling treasure removed from the sari* folds at a nonexistent waistline. She told Rashmeet to count them to ensure she had enough to buy Wada Paav. And Rashmeet got the hint very late as she pointed out that she was short three ruppees…  May be she was too proud to beg… to ask for help…

But I could’ve shown more discretion,  Rashmeet chided herself.

Rashmeet pointed out the bat and the bees with much alacrity and disgust. Maushi prodded at the bat with her old crooked finger to ensure it was really dead. Maybe she was half blind, too,  Rashmeet thought,  like the creature she carried out.

Carefully and with respect… to get rid of it…

Her frail form faded out of view, but her voice still resonated in the claustrophobic room as Rasmeet mechanically kept moving her red pen to circle and underline …

The school is going to the bats,  I tell you… and one of these days… I will leave too. Remember to discard me with care and respect …

Rashmeet would  remember these words later and the guilt of not offering three rupees for Wada Paav would deepen and forever haunt her… much later when Maushi would die- a lunatic, mumbling about school and students in her delirium in her last days at a municipal hospital. Her forced retirement from the school due to her old age would break her heart. She lost her will to fight against hunger or thirst…or the indifference of the world… for the marginalised and function-less octogenarians…

But the red pen with the mind of its  own would keep moving to strike and create strokes and curves… with  plans of corrective actions stored in abandoned rooms

Untouched

With burnt out bees and creepy black bats…

  • Maushi- a term used for a maid servant in Mumbai
  • Wada Pav- a local Mumbai delicacy
  • Saraswati- a Hindu Goddess of knowledge, wisdom, art and music
  • Marathi- an Indian language
  • Sari- a traditional Indian attire for ladies that they drape around themselves

AUTHOR BIO

MALKEET KAUR resides in Mumbai, India. Though she works as a teacher and passionately loves her profession, she writes poems too. Many of her poems have found places in various anthologies and online journals- Episteme, Barking Sycamores, Acerbic Anthology against gender violence, Twist of Fate- charitable Anthology,Yellow Chair Review, The Awakening of She,The Significant Anthology, to name a few. Her poems are mostly existentialist and feminist in nature.

Photo by Al King.

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