My name is Malti. I was named after a flower, my grandmother told me, but she couldn’t tell my birthyear. She only remembered that it was the month of Sraban, the courtyard was filled with water, and our neighbor, Lala Miah’s black goat got stolen. And a roar broke out between the women of three neighboring huts, everyone hurling abuse at everyone and amidst this hullaballoo, my mother went into labor and my father was nowhere to be found.
When I was a little girl, I used to come to this big red-brick house with my grandmother. I thought those who lived here were zamindars, but grandmother said that they were simply rich people. While she worked inside, I sat outside and stared at the figures drawn on the wall, the huge pillars, and the ancient wooden door.
After my grandmother’s death, I started working here. The widowed master died a few years ago. His children live in the city and only come here twice or thrice. Last year, they came with their friends, their wives, three maids and two dogs in two microbuses.
Sitting in the garden, the sahibs played cards and drank red juice. The Didis wore very short dresses and chatted nonstop and laughed loudly. Their white bare legs looked as smooth as silk, and the rings on their painted toenails sparkled. I swept up the dead leaves and twigs while stealing a glance at them. At one point, I stood there, staring, with the broom in my hand. Moti Da patted my head; I hurriedly went back to work.
Are they bideshi? I asked Moti Da later. He burst into laughter. Moti Da is a good man like the sahibs. Like the sahibs, he will never beat his wife even if the curry becomes too salty or spicy. Never steal his wife’s money and spend it on tari.
I loved working with Moti Da in the garden. When a cool breeze blows, bringing the scent of jasmine flowers, and a cuckoo’s wistful call is heard, I watch Moti Da and pray the day never ends.
Photography – Aritra Sanyal
Lyrics -Amar Shanti Chakma, Composed by Ranjit Dewan