In the campus where we live, there are many working women. They mop the corridors of all the office buildings, clean the classrooms and sweep the leaves on the paths all around campus.
Whenever I see them, they smile and say, “Namaskara” (Greetings). I return their greeting, and inevitably a question follows, “Coffee aita?” or “Naashta aita?” or “Oota aita?” Did you have coffee? Did you have your breakfast? Did you have your lunch? The question changes depending upon the time of day.
I give my one-word answer “Avudu” for yes or shake my head to indicate a “no.” Then I ask “Neevu?” “You?” And they also give their one word answer – Yes or No. There is no meaning in the words or the answers, just a connection. We smile and go our ways.
The uniform for the ladies working in the executive block is dark blue shirts and matching trousers. It looks incongruent with the flowers in their hair and the bindi on their forehead. Do we have to wear western clothes to prove that we are professional in our cleaning?
The ladies sweeping the leaves along the paths have a different uniform. It is a blue salwar kameez set, or for some, it is a jacket to be worn on top of their sarees. The bangles in their hands’ jingle as they move their large brooms under the trees which seem to keep them busy by shedding copious amounts of leaves all through the year.
In the evening, I leave campus to catch a bus and see a long line of these working women at the gate. They are in their colorful sarees though the flowers in their hair have faded. The security guard checks their little cloth bags. What could anybody steal when they are sweeping leaves or mopping corridors?
I walk out freely and cross the road to wait for my bus. There is another group of these working women there. They smile at me and ask “Coffee?” I nod and ask them how long it will take to go home. “Forty-five minutes” “Half an hour” “One hour.” They travel to different places.
“And then?” I ask.
“Cleaning the house.” “Feeding the children.” ‘Washing clothes” “Cooking” “Buying vegetables” The list goes on and on.
I wonder about feminism and women’s rights.
My bus comes, and I jump in, lucky to get a seat by the window. I look out and see all of them, waving at me with glittering smiles.
“Divine Mother, bless them.” I whisper.
Sri Krishna Sharanam
108 day Vow: Day 107