Kunji woke up with a start. The baby had started crying. The cradle made of cloth that hung from the ceiling was absolutely still. She looked at the clock. 3 am. She quickly got up and sat on her mat, and rocked the cradle gently. She lit a small candle that revealed much of the room where she had been staying for the past few months. It was a small place that barely had enough room for the cradle and herself. The room was scarcely furnished except for a stool near the window, on which the candle was placed. On the stool was an idol of her lord Krishna, the one that has been with her since childhood. There was a mirror tied on the window rods. The light from the candle fell on Kunji reflecting her full self on to the mirror.
Barely of twenty years, she looked much older due to her stressed life. Her white blouse with all the patches and loose blue skirt made her look rather skinny. She went to the corner of the room, where a box of her stuff was kept. She opened it and looked at a family picture that was taken few years ago. She lied down looking at the picture and felt happy. Her eye lids closed in an instant and she was transferred into her childhood village in an instant.
She dreamt she was running in the lush green fields, trying to catch a lamb that had gotten away from her. Her blue and white silk blouse shone in the bright rays of dying sunlight. Her father was standing far behind her in a white dhoti and shirt, holding a long black grandfather umbrella. He yelled at her.
“Kunji, madi purathhu kalichhathu. Iruttayi (enough of playing outside. Its already dark)”
“Varunnu achha (coming father). This Aattinkutty (lamb) has become very naughty now. Let me get hold of him”, saying this she ran again, getting farther away from her father.
There was a big red kite floating in the sky and she mimicked the kite flying in the air. She wanted to fly high and free, just like the kite. She spotted her best friend Kichhu ahead. He was the one flying the kite.
“Kunji” He called out. “Where are you running ? Don’t you have to go home ?”
“Its this stupid lamb Kichhu. Cant you see it jumping ? Help me instead of standing there like a tree.”
“Ok wait for me !”, Saying this he too ran behind her, leaving his kite floating freely.
Kunji was brought up in a luxurious courtyard house in a small Village in Kerala. Her father was a landlord who owned acres of land with many workers working on his paddy fields that stretched as far as the eyes could see. Third among six children, she started doing household chores when she was five, and took care of her younger siblings when she was ten. By the time her last sibling was born, her father had lost most of his money in the land tilling act and blew the rest in gambling and liquor. Her older siblings had to now work for a living and thus had to move out of Kerala to Gujarat. This made her responsible for all the work in the house.
Within a few years, her father passed away. Although in deep poverty, there were no complaints from any children. They ate once instead of three regular meals and played less in case they felt hungry. Kunji had one person to go to in times of distress – her lord Krishna. The idol had been given to her by a priest in Guruvayur temple, when as a child, she demanded that she had to meet Krishna and would not go home without him. She became quite happy that Krishna went home with her that night. She would sit all night and tell her days activities to her Krishna, and in turn would receive a smile from him. That made her very happy and poverty was forgotten in an instant.
At Eighteen, Kunji grew up to be a beautiful village lass that poets wrote about in their love poems. She started getting proposals from various places, from engineers and doctors. None of them would however, proceed beyond the first visit. Anything that went beyond would be rejected by her elder siblings. Within a couple of months, she received a letter from her elder sister, with some money enclosed. Her elder sister had been blessed with a baby boy and now needed someone to take care of the child. The enclosed money was to buy a ticket to Gujarat and for her travel expenses. She explained the situation to her mother and left for Gujarat within the next week.
Gujarat was nothing like the village she had been brought up in. It was a strange city with big buildings and a strange language that Kunji did not understand. Women draped their sarees in a reverse fashion. Even in summer, they would cover their heads with the saree shawl, which confused her. The men wore coats and turbans. They ate bread made of wheat, which took her a while to get used to, as she mostly ate only rice. Being a cheerful person, she got acquainted with the neighbors within a week. They would talk to her in a sign language and she would reply back in the same. They would ask how is her work so far and she would reply with a thumbs up. Little did she know that she had been introduced to the neighbours as a maid and not their sister. In fact all her proposals had been obstructed by them with this job in mind. It took her a while to realize that.
The first month went very normal. There was nothing much to do, other than looking after the baby. He had to be fed every few hours and made to sleep. The couple went to work early in the morning and came late, after which they hardly had time for dinner and sleep. Initially she had been given a big room with a cot and mattress. Soon after, the couple moved to a smaller house with only bedroom to save expenses and Kunji had to move to the small work area which hardly passed for a room.
Initially Kunji was asked if she could help them in their kitchen work to cook and clean dishes, but eventually this request turned to orders. She had to wake up early morning to cook for the couple, iron their clothes, and by the time they left, wash their clothes, all the while looking after the baby. At first she was happy to look after the baby, but the additional work load stressed her out. Just as she completed the days work and lied down to get a wink, the baby would start crying. She would again wake up to rock the baby, and this would go on until early in the morning, when the next day began.
Any day that she delayed any work, she was punished for it. She wasn’t given food until she promised not to repeat her mistake. She would look at her lord with tears.
“Why am i being tested my lord. Did I ever forget you ? All i now have is you. I came here with a lot of dreams and now i can’t even sleep to have a dream”
Kunji was now floating in the air alongside the kite. Her dad was calling out from the house.
“Kunji, evideya (where are you) ? I told you not to run like this”
“Look up Achha ! I am here, near the coconut tree. look at me fly !”
“Kunji, come down please. Your sister is crying and she needs you. Come give her milk”
She could hear the baby crying. She woke up. It was not her sister, but her nephew. He had woken up again. It was 4 am now. Time to get to kitchen and light the fire. As she lit the fire, she looked at the flame and wondered if her life would be like the flame, lighting up other’s lives before ending up as ashes from the wood that would be discarded without much thoughts.
She again looked at her lord, but did not complain. Her lord looked back at her, with his ever mischievous smile.