Since I moved to Bangalore I have had a maid at home to do the daily cleaning; just like my Mysore days. But a much better experience than the super-smart maid Radha in Mysore. Here I have a Muslim lady coming to work. Actually they are a bunch of ladies that work around here in my locality. So all are related to each other like sisters-in-law (in Indian terms they are Bhabhi, Nanand, Devrani, Jethani to each other)My maid Salma, recently started to bring a little girl…by which I mean a short girl really. Chandni, damn adorable girl with a very very innocent smile..just about 4 feet or an inch. On day one I wasn’t sure how old she is and I really didn’t want a little girl (minor) to work in my house. So I quickly asked Salma if Chandni was her daughter. She said no, Chandni was her brother-in-law’s wife. I was so shocked to hear this little baby faced girl was a ‘married woman’. I asked Chandni how old she really was and she said she was 19. That relieved me! Next day she mentioned she had two kids. I was again shocked to know she was already a mom with TWO kids! So in my head was calculating that its fine..she might have got married when she was 17 and then had the babies…which I think is common in Muslim custom (but not generalizing).
A week later she hadn’t come with Salma. So I enquired if she was fine. Apparently her kids were not doing well. And I felt sorry for her thinking her little kids must be sick and this little girl is supposed to nurse her two kids. When she came back to work after couple of days, I enquired about the well-being of her kids. I just generally asked how older her kids were…”One is 5 and another is 2”! Shocked!! I didn’t take too long to ask her ‘How old were you when you got married’. 12 was the answer!!! I was totally speechless. In my head I was thinking when I was 12, how I must have been in 7th grade..with images of my 7th grade classroom flashing before my eyes…the fun we had..the small events from 7th grade suddenly coming alive after so many years! And this girl was married at that age! In coming days…I have always been very fond of her; her innocence, her child-like face. One morning she was done with the dishes so I was washing Spinach in the kitchen sink. She asked me “Don’t you wear Bangles?” Embarrassed, I answered quite vaguely..”err…neah…no…not always…like if there is a celebration or special occasion…I wear them”. It somehow felt like I was such a bad ‘Indian’ woman! The next day my mom was with me at home. We were busy in the kitchen. After her work, Chandni was watching us, when she dropped another big question; “Don’t you wear a nose ring?” I was so very embarrassed this time. I laughed out and said..No dear, I don’t wear a nose ring!!!
She retorted back saying, “Your mother doesn’t wear either”. For this one I had an answer. I told her how my mom used to wear earlier, until it started to hurt her and she stopped wearing her nose ring. She also noticed my mom’ bare hands ..no bangles. My mom had a better convincing answer! Since we work at home and office…we try to maintain the bangles from water and stuff..we only wear it to work and remove it once we’re back home! Chandni nodded in acceptance and said..”Well in our community we have to wear bangles and nose rings compulsory…or else, we are scolded”. I told her that in our religion/community, there is no such hard and fast rule to follow such customs…at least not in my family.
I have always thought of how some religions or communities are so strict and strong on their rules…especially rules that are made for WOMEN! It makes me go back to the same old thoughts of how all the rules in the society are made for women…around women…and if there are any rules for men, they can always be broken and adjusted, right! I have grown up with couple of rules for being a girl too..safety wise..and I still hear even today from elders of some rules and ways of living for a woman! I choose to decide myself..what is required…what can be ignored! But little Chandni hardly has any choice to think or decide or ignore any rules! She does what she is told and thinks that is what life is all about!