LAKSHMI Bai picks up the broom for the fourth time in the day. She works as a housemaid, sweeping floors, washing clothes, cleaning utensils; her life seems mired in the filth and dirt that others make. And the humiliation that comes with it.

Often, with the loads of dirty clothes and bhandi come impatient, angry words of reprimand that the people she works for think it is their right to make. So, even as she cleans others’ homes, Lakshmi finds a thick layer of unhappiness staining her own soul.

On any given day, she tries to finish her work and get away as soon as possible to the tiny room she calls home. She lives here with her unemployed, alcoholic husband and two sons. Here at least, she can look at her young sons with pride and pretend they will grow up to put an end to this unending cycle of dirt and grime she is forced to undergo.

That frail hope will never be fulfilled, Lakshmi now knows. The lady of the house where she is working continues to complain like she does everyday, but her words have lost their power to hurt. Today it is a different pain that soils Lakshmi’s heart, one that she cannot wash away.

***

Her elder son, the apple of her eye, the one on whom she had pinned all her hopes, has failed his high school exams. In fact, he never appeared for them in the first place. All year long, while Lakshmi was sweeping and swabbing other people’s homes so that she could send him to school and keep him there, he was burning up the money in cigarettes and liquor with some nasty friends he had made.

Now, the money is gone. Gone also is the hope that he would take up the job the neighbourhood garage owner had promised her son once he passed out of school. Lakshmi would be able to stay back home then, away from the grunge and glop she puts up with everyday. Or so she had thought. 

A wave of nausea arises from the pit of her stomach and chokes her throat as Lakshmi recalls what happened when she mentioned he must forget about his failure and try again. Her darling son had hit her right across the face at this, and she had been too stunned to retaliate. She knew then it was just the beginning of what would soon be a routine she would have to face.

***

The lady of the house stretches out on the divan in front of the TV, belching up the pungent spices of the heavy lunch she has just eaten. She turns up the volume of her favourite soap, but that doesn’t stop her from her daily tirade that Lakshmi otherwise finds hard to take.

Lakshmi is no longer in a hurry to finish her work and go back to the room that now reeks of disappointment and hate. How she wishes she could stay back and not have to return to take the smacking dealt by her 18-year-old first-born, and fate!

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