Living in a big city, people adopt their lifestyles to suit the times. The ‘bai’* became a regular feature of the Mumbai cityscape sometime in the 60’s. My grandmother refused to employ a bai until she broke a few of her bones. My mother, progressive and liberal had a bai pinned down even before she had a house. And as the years rolled on, the bai found herself an integral part of our family mosaic. Sometimes aloof, sometimes interfering. Sometimes working too much, sometimes slacking. However for good or bad, our bai she remains. Apart from this unusual bonding we share with our bai, another unique thing is our bai herself. A mass of contradictions, intelligent and crazy to the point of hilarity. I have come to accept her sayings as gospel and listen to all her gossip with the air of a cynic and she never fails to crack me up.
I shall call myself Mona Lisa Devi, bai announced to a shocked home one day. I later realized that it was due to the Da Vinci craze. My intrepid bai, ever questing for knowledge and going where no bai had gone before had come across the Da Vinci fever and had decided to call herself that. An act of self promotion? Advertisement mania hits bai-land? Bai’s explanation was simple: Sounds phunky. I must reinvent myself with time no? Mona Lisa shaves 20 years of my age and then these über cool households might want to hire me.
That wretched girl. Bawlat mulgi. Kayko shaadi karneka…she wailed. Bai was upset. Understandably so. Aishwarya Rai was marrying Abhishek Bachchan, and bai’s heart was broken in a million pieces. Such a nice boy and so handsome no? The she-devil must have ensnared him. Sly vixen. What will Amitabh do? Parents can’t control their kids nowadays. I am afraid. I don’t like the way that Sunil carpenter fellow looks at my Varsha, but I have to go to work no? I cannot sit around all day long looking at my kids. I know exactly how Amitabh must be feeling. Ah… the perils of parenthood.
“O Tai…DVD ghetla me” bai’s sing song Marathi rang through the house. Bai does it again. She purchased a DVD player so she can watch movies on her ‘kemputar’. Truly her resourcefulness and alacrity never fail to amaze me. I gaped open mouthed while she carefully studied our DVD collection, deciding what she will borrow for the weekend.
I, as usual was left speechless.
*bai = maidservant