An International Woman

Entry by: daddy

11th March 2016

Today, Bina is sitting at the Washington Dulles airport waiting to board her flight to Delhi. Washington at this time of the year is not so cold, today it is just cloudy, the roads were wet, may be it had rained in the night. A little girl on the opposite seat is trying to solve the Rubik’s cube as her mother watches over her. Bina reflects on her life’s journey, which has been uneventful in a routine sense of the term.

This is the story of Bina, well you may not call it a story in the sense of twists and turns, and a gripping ending for the story does not end, it continues where I leave it like an unending tiny stream flowing gently down an imperceptible incline.

Her father married off Bina at the age of 18 years to a taxi driver who stayed in an urban village on the outskirts of Ghaziabad adjacent to Delhi, the national capital of India. His name, Shyam, is not important except for the sake of completeness. He was a hardworking person, who wanted to marry a village girl so that she would carry out the household chores, cook, and look after his ailing mother. He never planned for children, but took it for granted that they would be looked after by his wife. He was not an alcoholic like many other taxi drivers, but he did ‘enjoy’ reliable country liquor once or twice a month with his friends.

Bina had studied up to class eight in the village school, she was not a bright student by any measure and was glad that her mother had decided to pull her out of school and teach her intricacies of housekeeping so that she can ‘adjust’ in her husband’s house as and when she married.

After her marriage, Bina came to stay in a one-room shanty on the outskirts of Ghaziabad. Shyam was permitted by the owner of the Taxi, as a measure of goodwill, to take his bride for a sightseeing tour of Delhi. She was fascinated by the wide roads, majestic buildings, and the glitter of Delhi bazaars. Bina proved to be a diligent housewife and settled in the daily routine of the urban village life comfortably. Her mother-in-law was happy that Bina was not prone to gossiping with the large plethora of other women who thronged the area and had nothing better to do in their free time. There was plenty to talk about, as many of the women worked as part-time cleaning and washing women in the small bungalows; that dotted the nearby colony; and had loads of spiced up stories to tell. Within a period of four years, Bina gave birth to two girls and a boy. The children were skinny and like other children in the area. Life trudged along, alternating with routine illnesses and social obligations. Bina had no serious complaints from her husband, he did not squander money and looked after the family whenever Bina fell sick, and he even used to cook in emergencies. She however, resented the occasions when Shyam would return late, nearly drunk and skip work the following day. She had learned early in her married life, not to nag him lest he let loose a barrage of abuses and slaps in his drunken stupor.

The landscape of Ghaziabad was undergoing a change , shortage of land and sky rocketing realty prices forced more and more builders to build multi storied apartment blocks to meet the rising demands of the working executives and their nuclear families.
Bina’s children, unlike her, loved to go to the school and soon Bina had free time on her hands. She was now on the periphery of the gossip group hearing, grasping, and trying to understand the problems of the women working as part time helpers. Multi-storied buildings were a cause of curiosity as well as excitement for the working women as opportunities for work multiplied so much that women even form a radius of 5/7 km came to search for work. The young couples in those flats wanted efficiency and had no time for frivolous talks. Most important of all, they were paying double of the normal wages for getting their household chores done at times of their choosing.

Soon women could be seen leaving and returning in a group from specific apartment blocks. With more cash flowing in to the shanties, the frugal life style started changing as more vegetables and fruits found their way in to the homes, new clothes being purchased, and most of all; electric connections were no longer a novelty.
Bina’s husband broached the topic of Bina taking up some work in the apartments since almost all the wives of his friends had taken to working part time and were bringing in equal if not more money than their husbands. He convinced his mother that Bina would finish all the household work including cooking and would be back before children came home. Bina was not keen since in her village she had never seen anyone working as a helper in another household, she was apprehensive and feared she would be treated like a lowly worker, shouted at, or maybe even beaten. She did not say no but asked for some time to think and decide what work she could do. She started spending more time with the women and found out about the monthly wage rates, learned from their experiences about the types of households and the ladies there in, the timings people preferred and so on. She gathered that cooking helper, large flats with more than four persons, and limited leave happened to be the least desirable options for part-timers in her area.

Shyam took her to meet the security in charge at the gate of Sunshine Housing Society, which had over 300 flats in four towers. The security in charge had a list of occupants, who desired a helper, and whenever anyone approached him, he would intimate the flat occupants and set up the meeting. There was no union, no organization, and no helping agency; one had to search for work by going from one complex to the other. Bina spent the next two weeks or so until she finally got a work spot in place of a cook who had gone back to her village. Mr. Rovin and his wife stayed with Rovin’s aged parents in a five-bedroom apartment, the requirement was to cook all meals and off was given twice a month at the choice of the Rovin family. Bina was undecided because working at Rovin’s had all the negatives about which the women in her colony had cautioned her. Next day however, Bina made up her mind and went to Rovin’s with a proposal, which they couldn’t refuse. She asked for twelve days leave at one go during the period when her children had vacations, she said she would cook only simple meals as she didn’t know any fancy cooking, she wanted her wages to be higher than those prevalent by 10%, and that she would like to work part-time in other households but ensure that work at Rovin’s was not hampered. The Rovin’s decided to hire her after a probation period of one week. Bina worked thereafter at Rovin’s and they in turn became dependent upon her so much so that Bina was almost like a distant family member. Bina’s strategy and diligence worked and she became the most sought after cook in the area despite the fact that she could never learn the art of cooking great meals. She compensated her failings by her gentle and accommodating nature.
Bina and her husband purchased a small TV, an electric heater and a small fridge. They moved to a single room with a kitchenette and a tiny toilet. Bina trudged along over the years, always cooking similar meals, taking off only once a year, and requesting for hike in her wages every year. There came a time when she was earning more than Shyam, but he did not mind as the earnings were spent in the house and the children and his mother were looked after by Bina.

Over the next few years, Rovin’s were blessed with two children and the parents of Rovin expired due to old age. Bina had been serving them steadfastly as before and had been a support through the joys and sorrows of the Rovin family.

Rovin got a lucrative assignment in Washington, and asked Shyam to allow Bina to accompany his family at wages, and perks applicable for full time cooks in the USA. She was assured a daily call to her family as well as two paid holidays in a year. Shyam and her children did not hesitate and insisted that she do it for her family. She was in two minds and but agreed for 3 months on a trial basis.

Washington was different, different from her tiny room near Ghaziabad and from her home in her native village. For Bina everything appeared unfamiliar, people, roads, appliances, utensils, food stuff, vegetables and even milk. Bina adjusted in due course of time and labored through her cooking simple meals albeit with somewhat different ingredients. Being an introvert, she didn’t miss the outside world and for her, outings in DC in company of the Rovin family, were like seeing a film in India.

The girl is unable to solve the cube so her mother sets it for her; the girl looks at all the sides of the cube for different colors and claps.

Bina realizes that her life has been like a solved Rubik’s cube, with different sides focusing different colors as time has flown by but the cube has very much remained the same, there was no essential resetting required at any stage. She had been cooking since her adolescence and all through her adult life. The places have kept changing from her village to the shanty to the housing complexes and now in Videsh (foreign land). Washington outside the Rovin’s apartment, still remains unfamiliar to her.

She still cooked the very same simple meals day after day, what had changed? Nothing, at all. She had been submerged, like the vast majority of women, in semi spring or one may say in semi autumn all her life.

As she boarded the flight, she knew that this time she was not coming back.