Anand, Gujarat, India
The name has a tinkle in it, sounds like little rays of light reflecting on some shining little beads...
Her life is not as shining though...!
Chumki, she worked as a domestic help at my cousin’s place. Chumki, all of 12, she was the sole bread-earner for a family of six.
I met her for the first time during my visit to my cousin's place at Rajabajaar, in Kolkata. I had thrown up temper and staged protests saying that my cousin has no right to employ a child. Chumki should go to school and secure her future. To all that, my cousin only replied that my altercation does not really change Chumki’s reality. So, if my conviction is not real, what is?
Chukmki was the eldest of the siblings. She had four sisters and her mother was pregnant with her eighth child. Five children had survived; two had died one-two months after their birth. Chumki’s parents had owned a small piece of land in a village in Purulia. Her father reportedly was an alcoholic who spent most of the time under some tree shed in the village while his wife toiled in her own and other villagers’ land to earn a wage. They lost their little land in debt and that is when the entire family migrated to Kolkata. Chumki’s father was not in a position to toil, he suffered from a chronic lung infection and was often irritated and bit up his wife and daughters. The other siblings were quite small and Chumki’s mother waited for them to grow up enough to get themselves employed as domestic workers as well.
Chumki’s mother, hoping to have a son, went on with her eighth pregnancy and when I met Chumki, her mother was in the seventh month of pregnancy and so had stopped working at the flats; Chumki compensated for her mother’s absence too.
She worked day-long, obediently listening to all the orders her employers had for her; at times she looked at my books with hunger and a tinge of sadness in her eyes. Whenever there was a delicacy cooked in the house, my cousin would give some to her. Chumki never had any. She took her serving to be shared among all her sisters and if possible her ma.
Chumki had made me feel so helpless. Her presence challenged and laughed at my theoretical convictions which I had no clue to transform into action. There I was sitting, looking at her eyes and my heart bleeding and watching her mopping the floor and narrating her mother’s experiences at the small village of Purulia. She had no tale to tell of her own!
That was about five years back. After my cousin left Kolkata, we had no clue as to what happened to Chumki.
Her memory has not faded with time. I wander where is Chumki now? Is she still working in those flats, is her mother satisfied with a son or is still trying for one? Or has Chumki been married off to start her job of procreation while still working as domestic help?
I have no answer! There are questions but no answers...
Will her fate change ever? For that matter, will the fate of the any of the Chumkis change.......do we have an answer?