Who owns the Mumbai dream?
Our housemaid Renu is what Raj Thackeray would call an 'outsider'. I remember her first day on the job, wearing her best red salwar khameez with its frayed gold trimmings, and a smile worth a million bucks. Two scrawny arms reached out to take the blue bundle I had brought home from the hospital, with a confidence that I would take many months to muster.
Barely nineteen, Renu bathed and dressed my newborn with the practised ease of a professional nurse. Her mother, she explained, was the village midwife, and by the age of nine, Renu was Chief Assistant. When they were not delivering babies, the two would work at the local quarry, loading stones onto trucks in the heat and dust. So this 24/7 job as my infant daughter's nanny was doubtless the cushiest on our maid's CV.
Two months later, she slipped into a pair of blue jeans to fit her new cosmopolitan status. And by four months she had turned out the perfect mushroom quiche — after I casually translated the recipe — and offered to replace our absconding cook, to supplement her salary. It was time to introduce Renu to Mumbai.
We drove to Marine Drive and Chowpatty, to the Gateway of India, and the concrete jungle of Nariman Point. "So what do you think of Bombay, Renu?" I asked, rather patronisingly. My maid wrinkled her nose. "Dirty," she said. "The air here is not good."
But Renu throve on it, this muggy Mumbai oxygen that ignited the fire in her belly. Every week, she would squeeze into a jam packed BEST bus to the Mahalaxmi Temple, and pay her respects to Mumbai's divine benefactress. And at the end every month, the Devi's 'grace' was meticulously assigned to a growing fixed deposit.
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