Sujata came to Mumbai when she was 18, with a head full of dreams anticipating exciting possibilities. But, a month into her new job, where she worked as a house maid for a small family of four, she soon realised that as restricting as her village was, she missed it.
But Mumbai gave her much more than her village in Kolhapur did. She soon made new friends, reconnected with her extended family in Mumbai and had quickly, established a pattern.
She lived with the family she worked for, and took Saturday and Sunday evenings off, which was when she would go visiting the city and meet her family. The work wasn’t too difficult either. When the parents were off to their respective jobs and the children had gone to school, she would often get the afternoons free which was when she developed a new hobby of knitting and sewing.
It was all well and good, until she started missing her family back home.
“There was one problem,” she says now, six years later, “I didn’t fit into the city, I still felt like an outsider.” The city was too huge, too crowded, too fast for the innocent Kolhapur girl. More she was exposed to the extrovert ways of Mumbai, more private a person she became, withdrawing somewhere deep inside.
After her first year of working, she had taken a well-deserved month off, in the summer, to go visit her family. It wasn’t until then that she had realised that no matter how far away she went, or how much more independent she became, she would always belong back home with her family and childhood friends. There is an irresistible pull about “home” that words can’t describe. But we live in a practical world, where money still rules people even though we don’t have kings anymore. So, she returned to work and got back into her well established patterned-life, her wandering mind travelling often through the vast fields and known faces of Kolhapur.
Halfway into the first month, she got an interesting offer. The kids had come up with the idea of teaching her English; they thought it might make her a bit happier and help her fit in. So all the necessary steps were taken, they bought her a Marathi-English dictionary and started teaching her a new word every day.
“It wasn’t something I needed,” she reminisces, “But it was fun and it did make me feel better about myself.”
She doesn’t speak fluent English now either, but she knows enough, she thinks. Although it wasn’t something she needed, it was a tiny step towards being someone from her new world. It was a key to the polish of the ever buzzing city of glamour. It was about, breaking out of some shackles maybe, when she didn’t have to look blank when someone uttered something in English. Every new word learnt felt like a coat of mousse on a dull face, a tinge of red on her lips, fragrance of a chain of jasmines around a carefully oiled bun.
“Whenever I would go to shop I could now say things in English proudly, and not feel embarrassed or worry whether it was wrong.” She says, smiling brightly.
She’s come a long way since then, she made more friends, joined a sewing class and can afford to send her younger brothers to college. Now, at the age of 24, she knows a lot more about life than she did then and is looking forward to a new chapter in her life, as she is soon to be married and settled. “Whatever I felt before, I definitely don’t anymore,” she states, “It helped a little, I don’t feel like I’m an outsider anymore. It’s more like, I now have two places to call home.”
(Sujata Dhumak story as told to Shreya Sharma.)