By Roshan Shah, New Age Islam
01 March 2016
Some of us are truly blessed to have home-help. Most of us wouldn’t be able to run our homes properly for even a day without them. If you have home-help, you will probably agree. With no one to help you with cleaning the house, cooking, buying the daily provisions, minding your children and taking care of your elderly parents, you know how next to impossible things would be for you and your family.
Home-help are truly a blessing for those who have them. Yet, how many of us who are fortunate in this regard know anything much about those who work for us? Some of us may not even know where our home-help live or how many children they have, leave alone having any clue about the myriad problems they face as they struggle to survive and provide for their families. For many of us, the only thing that matters as far as our home-help are concerned is that they must do all the work that we pay them for. As for their personal lives, many of us are simply not interested to know anything.
60 year-old Minna has been working for my sister and my mother for almost two decades now. As I type these lines, I realise how little I actually know about Minna, despite the fact that she’s been with us for many years. I do know that she lives in a rented structure in a nearby slum, that her husband was a drunkard and a wife-beater, that she has two daughters, two sons and several grandchildren, and that after her husband’s death, she insisted that her mother-in-law (who’s almost 90 now) should live with her despite the fact that she was very cruel to her when Minna’s husband was around. I also know that the job Minna does is far from easy, although she doesn’t complain about it.
There’s another thing that I know about Minna—that she is devoted to God. Her life is tough, but her face glows with the peace, gentleness and grace that come only from the love of God. When she talks about God—and this is her favourite topic of conversation—her face lights up with a child-like excitement that has to be seen to be believed.
Other than this, I don’t know too much more about Minna and her life. I haven’t taken enough interest; I have to confess, to know more about her.
Minna finishes work around 8:30 pm and then takes an auto-rickshaw home. Sometimes, her work gets over at 10. At that late hour, when most other people step out only if it is an emergency, she walks down from our home to a lonely crossing, where she waits for an auto that might chance to pass by. At that time of the night few autos ply on that stretch, and so I guess she generally has to wait there for quite a while. If it’s past 8 pm, auto drivers charge 1 ½ times the fare registered on their metre. That means that often, Minna has to pay 60 or 70 rupees (a hefty sum for her, considering that she earns 8000 rupees a month) to get back home.
The auto does not drop Minna at her doorstep, though. She lives in a densely-populated slum that is criss-crossed with narrow lanes through which vehicles cannot pass. And so, she alights from the auto and walks for some 15 minutes down to her place. Maybe—I haven’t asked her this, though—like in many other slums in our city, the lane that leads to her house has no street lights and so she relies on the light coming out from people’s homes to find her way. Once she is back home, Minna has her dinner and doesn’t go to bed before she says her prayers, reads some pages of scripture and sings a hymn, no matter how tired she is.
Can you imagine walking through the dark lanes of a slum in the middle of the night, negotiating giant heaps of uncleared garbage that have been accumulating over weeks, crater-like potholes, snarling, possibly rabid, street-dogs and drunken men loitering about? I wouldn’t dare do that—but that’s precisely what Minna has been doing every night for several years now.
Last night when I got back home, Minna was in the kitchen. It was time for my dinner, but it would be several hours before Minna would return to her home to have hers. As I ate, we chatted about this and that, and in the course of our conversation the thought of Minna trudging down a lonely lane to get an auto late at night and then walking 15 minutes to her house crossed my mind.
I shuddered. It wasn’t at all safe, I thought, and certainly not for a woman. I wondered how Minna managed it.
“Minna, when you walk back at night, do you carry a torch with you?” I asked her.
“No, Bhaiya,” she answered. “We have one torch at home, and that’s needed there, in case the electricity goes off.”
Minna’s reply came as a double shock. The thought of her walking down that lonely, dangerous lane at night was heart-wrenching. And the discovery that her family had just one torch between themselves, because of which Minna didn’t have one to use, was even more so.
“Then how do you manage, Minna?” I asked her. “Don’t you feel scared in the dark?”
“No, Bhaiya, I don’t feel scared at all,” she smiled. “I don’t need a torch at all. I just tell God, ‘Lord, You walk in front of me and I will follow You.’ I have full faith that He will take care of me and bring me safely home. He has been doing that all these days, and I am sure He will do it in future, too.”
You should have seen Minna’s face light up as she said that! Such wonderful faith!
I was about to react by fetching a torch from my room and giving it to Minna as a gift but, luckily, better sense prevailed. I held myself back. “She’s got the best torch in the world—God Himself,” I told myself. “Why would she need my plastic one?”