The Maid’s Cup

by Varunika
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(Three months into the pandemic 2020)

Can you drink from your maid’s cup? Do you?

Pardon me if this question offends you. Should I rephrase the question? Does your maid have a separate cup to drink her portion of tea /water? If my question put you through a globus sensation in the throat for a second, then perhaps it is the right question to ask ourselves. And why do I ask this now, when I am now adept at living without a domestic help for quite some time now? Because even when she is not around in this lockdown, her cup had been there, lying somewhere at the bottom of the kitchen shelf, untouched and uncared for; until my 6-year-old asked me THE QUESTION!

This is not a fictional event that typically happens in a sizable number of homes across the globe. It’s about a moment between my daughter and me; it’s about a question that her inquiring eyes asked me; it’s also about how a split second can hit you with the force of an avalanche challenging every Nano-sized belief of ours which doesn’t seem to be a priority in our value system and yet in so many ways defines it.

“Is it ok to drink from Sunita auntie’s cup? I hope you are not angry that I pulled this cup out from the shelf, Mumma!” my 6-year-old questioned me. She was standing at the centre of the kitchen holding the big steel mug, ready to drink water from it.

I walked into the kitchen just at the right time, into my Ahaa moment (I’d like to call it that). A question had been asked. It needed to be answered. Am not sure if I was angry but I was not pleased, for sure. So, there I was trying to understand my own uneasiness and exactly across the kitchen was my child holding the maid’s cup, the very reason behind this feeling.

She was looking straight into my eyes, prying into my guilt-laden eyes for letting her feel the way she felt at such a tender age. I could not hold on to her gaze long enough as I felt incredibly ashamed of unknowingly teaching her how to discriminate. Yes, my child had been observing long enough to have realised that our maids were somehow different. But I was running out of time. Maybe I did have a window to salvage this otherwise doomed thought process that had sown its seed in her mind.

“Yes, it is ok to drink from Sunita auntie’s cup, S. Let me clean it first. It has been lying there for a long time now. So, I need to wash it once. I will throw this water, wash it, and fill it again for you honey.” I spoke.

“ok, cool!” she chirped.

I washed the cup and filled it with water and gave it to her. Normally she would not have gulped down all of it but that day she drank it to the last drop. I sensed it was a breakthrough moment for her.

“It tastes the same mommy! I thought the taste must be different in her cup!! I am so silly Mumma.” She said, her lips breaking into a smile.

Glad you realised how silly you are, and I wish I could say it loud for myself without any fear of judgement I wanted to say. I could not say it though.

“It’s ok dear, I am happy you realised that whether it is this cup or your tumbler or anybody else’s fancy water bottle, the taste will remain the same.” I shrugged my shoulder and replied.

Satisfied with my answer she happily danced away to her room. But it took me a few seconds to come out of this conversation.

I stood there, staring at the cup. I tried to recollect when I could possibly have made this blunder.

After all, hadn’t I always been polite with my help in the past?

Didn’t I always instruct my children to be mindful of their tone when they would even playfully raise it while talking to the help.

 Where had I erred?

 I had never asked any of my domestic help to drink in a particular cup or tumbler. They had of course, right at the start asked me “Didi should I drink in this cup?” and I nodded giving my consent. Since then, those big steel mugs became theirs. It was like a silent pact. I was always served tea in my glass mug and they had it in their steel mugs. Such a brilliant arrangement!

Nothing said everything understood. Days passed, until two months into this lockdown, my 6-year-old, got me into a confrontation with this dishonest sneaky portrayal of the so-called inclusiveness with which we treat our help.

The day went by and as my kids and I hit the bed, I knew my elder one will confront me again. She often does that. If something is going on in her mind and she requires validation of some kind, then just before she falls asleep, she thinks out loud.

“Mumma, I thought you would be mad at me for drinking from Sunita auntie’s cup. Now that she is not around, I can also drink from it sometimes. Isn’t it?” she spoke, still trying to draw some concrete conclusion from the happenings of the day.

Isn’t it beautiful, how relentless children at this age are?

 I smiled and said, “I would have been mad if you drank from a dirty glass. As long as it is clean, it is perfectly fine to drink from any of the cups that you find.”

“So, it only has to be clean? That’s all Mumma?” She sought confirmation one last time.

“Yes, cleanliness is the only criteria darling. Nothing more. Now sleep.” I whispered holding her tight. My answer was greeted by a peck on my cheek. As I put her to sleep, I realized that my child had not just convinced me into cleaning the cup but had also offered me an opportunity to sleep with a clean conscience.

Coming back to my question at the start. Will you drink from your maid’s cup?

P.s. – ‘S’ is my elder daughter. And that’s her hand you see in the picture. Not to forget THE MAID’S CUP.

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