by Annie Zaidi
Setting: An imagined field
Character: MALTI, a woman worker
A long row of shapes/shadows, like women bent over, swamped in dirty fabric. MALTI, a wrinkled, sun-cooked woman with iron-coloured hair, and no blouse with her saree, is in the middle of that row. She raises her head.
One man (or scarecrow), in cleaner clothes, carries an umbrella and watches the women.
MALTI pauses, raises herself a couple of inches, looks at the man/scarecrow, goes back to work. Then she stops again. She balances her weight on a long-handled khurpi (spade).
As she speaks, she raises herself slowly, a fraction of an inch at a time.
I wonder what the time is. At noon, there will be a lunch break. Half an hour is enough. More than enough. It doesn’t take half an hour to eat. But I eat slowly. Even then, it takes only five minutes. Maybe ten. I eat two rotis. That is twenty four morsels. One roti is that big.
(She makes a circle in the mud with her khurpi.)
One morsel that big. Twenty four. I chew slowly. It fills you up in a beautiful way if you chew slowly. After four morsels, you feel juice dribbling in into your stomach. Suddenly, it comes rushing in from all the corners of your body…. These days, strange thoughts come into my head. It didn’t happen earlier. When I was twenty, even thirty years old, I only thought of how to make money. How to make lunch hour last long. That’s why I began to chew slowly. Because if you finish quickly, they will give you even less time to rest. We all learnt to eat slowly, wash slowly. Bhondu was the only one who ate fast. He ate and ran off to lie under a tree. But that was because he didn’t have children and if Valli threw him out, he didn’t care. But Valli doesn’t throw him out. All of us would be happier if Valli threw us out, when we still had a chance of going to work somewhere else. But we had children. And if we don’t come to work, Valli will bring our children to work here… I made a mistake. We should have moved when we could. There was time when my biggest girl was that little. We should have gone to a fat city, a city that looks like a goat on the hills after the rains.
(The man with the umbrella looks at her. MALTI bends again.)
My biggest girl has a girl now. Maybe I am growing senile. Only the senile start to think, Valli says… Continue reading