Rakhee was seven years old, and a liability to her parents in the village, so they got in touch with Surekha who worked as a maid servant, in nearby Mumbai, and asked her advice. Back came the answer, in a postcard. “Send her here”, it said, “I will get her a job in a nice home, and remit a hundred rupees to you, every month. All at once, Rakhee was transformed from a liability, to an asset. A hundred rupees in the village, was a considerable sum, especially if, in the bargain, it meant one less mouth to feed.
Off went Rakhee, and was duly received by Surekha who was waiting for her on the platform, at Mumbai’s vast Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus which, until recently, used to be called Victoria Terminus.
“I have a nice job ready for you”, gushed Surekha, “it’s with a lady who has a little girl the same age as you. You will have someone to play with and have plenty to eat, so don’t be silly and stop crying”. But as the tears rolled down her cheeks, Rakhee complained “I want my Mummy”.
There followed a short bus ride in which a kindly old gentleman offered Rakhee a sweet to stop her crying. Rakhee accepted the sweet, flashed the gentleman a smile, and carried on crying until Surekha and she, got off the bus.
“Now enough of that”, said Surekha sharply. “Any more crying, and I promise you I’ll put you on the next train home . . . and you know what that means!” Rakhee knew only too well. Much as she disliked this frightening place called Mumbai, with cars honking frantically, and people rushing past, pushing her this way and that without even bothering to look at her, Rakhee knew that being sent home would be much worse. The prospect of facing her parents and how they might react, terrified her. So with a final long sniff and a gulp, she wiped her eyes with the back of her hand, looked straight ahead and stopped crying. Minutes later, they were ringing Mrs. Mulgavkar’s doorbell. Mrs. Mulgavkar answered the door herself.
“Why Surekha”, she exclaimed in surprise, “what brings you here?”
“Namaste madam”, simpered Surekha “You had asked me to bring you a little girl to work for you. This is Rakhee”. Surekha reached behind her and dragged a reluctant Rakhee into view. At the same time, there emerged from behind Mrs. Mulgavkar, a girl of about the same age as Rakhee.
“Gita, take this little girl with you and show her your toys”, Mrs. Mulgavkar instructed her daughter. The two girls went off, with Rakhee now noticeably more at ease.
“You remember our agreement, madam?” began Surekha.
“Yes, I remember”, replied the lady. “I am to pay you three hundred rupees each month and feed and clothe the child. Very well, I agree. And here is a hundred rupees in advance, as arranged.” Surekha took the money, turned on her heel and walked off without another word.
In the days and months that followed, Rakhee became more and more a member of the Mulgavkar household. Indeed the neighbours came to refer to her, in Marathi, as Mrs Mulgavkar’s doosri mulgi (other little girl). She could be seen walking the dog, a dachshund named ‘Sossitch’, and on other occasions, basket in hand, out shopping for Mrs Mulgavkar.
Mrs Mulgavkar’s husband had fallen ill and died five years ago, and she had a hard time living on her own with Gita. To make ends meet, she bottled pickles and prepared confectionery which she sold to nearby shops. The work took up all her time so she was glad Rakhee was there to keep Gita company. It left her free to attend to her work. Besides, Rakhee was genuinely interested in all that went on around her and was good at remembering things and keeping accounts, especially after Mrs Mulgavkar had taught her the basics of reading and writing. Without a doubt Rakhee was proving to be extremely useful to her employer and a much loved companion for Gita.
One day Surekha turned up and asked to speak to Mrs Mulgavkar. After going through the usual ceremony of salaams, namastes and enquiries about everyone’s health, she came to the point and demanded a hundred rupees more every month, for Rakhee’s services.
“But you said it was to be three hundred rupees for the first twelve months at least ” pointed out Mrs Mulgavkar, “and she has been with us for only nine”.
“Yes I know,” said Surekha “ but times are hard, prices are going up and I feel I deserve more money for Rakhee’s services.”
“ I am afraid I can’t afford it” said Mrs Mulgavkar regretfully.
“Well think it over” said Surekha, getting an edge to her voice and departed.
At the end of the month nothing had changed. Mrs Mulgavkar still could not afford the raise and told Surekha so. Surekha muttered darkly under her breath and went off in a huff. Some days later there was a ring at the door and a gentleman in uniform announced himself as police inspector Rai, wishing to see Mrs Mulgavkar.
“ I am told you have a child by the name of Rakhee working for you”, stated the inspector.
“ That’s right”.
“ I am also told you overwork the child and keep her in inhuman conditions,” the inspector disclosed.
“ Why, that’s not true” exclaimed Mrs Mulgavkar “Whoever told you that?”
“ A lady by the name of Surekha who claims to be her guardian” replied the inspector.
“ Well tell her with my compliments that she had better be able to prove what she says if she expects me to take any notice of her,” returned Mrs Mulgavkar.
“ The fact remains”, mentioned the inspector curtly, that a serious charge has been levelled against you and it is my duty to look into the matter. Where is the girl? “
“ She has gone out shopping with my daughter” replied the lady.
“ In that case, please bring her along with you, and report to me at the Colaba police station at 9 AM tomorrow. I wish to have a word with both of you”.
“ Very well “ said a visibly disturbed Mrs Mulgavkar as she shut the door on the policeman.
A few minutes later, the doorbell rang again. It was Surekha.
“ How dare you come out with that pack of lies about the way I treat Rakhee,” began Mrs Mulgavkar heatedly. Surekha held up her hand for silence.
“Never mind all that” she said. “There’s nothing to worry about if you act promptly. All you have to do is pay me the extra one hundred rupees for Rakhee’s wages and I shall drop all charges against you. But please give me your reply quickly, before the police take action.”
Mrs Mulgavkar said nothing. She simply went inside and closed the door firmly behind her. The next morning, Mrs Mulgavkar and Rakhee marched hand in hand, into the police station and were led to inspector Rai who received them at his desk. He told the lady that employing Rakhee a minor, was, in itself, an offence under the law. However, he was more concerned
about the allegation that the girl was being overworked and mistreated.
Mrs Mulgavkar defended herself spiritedly, pointing out that Rakhee’s duties consisted mainly of being a companion to her daughter Gita, so that she could get on with her own work of preparing and marketing foodstuffs. She also made Rakhee do light work about the house just as she made Gita do.
“Ask the girl yourself “ she invited, “if you think there is another side to the
story.” The inspector and Mrs Mulgavkar had been conversing in English, which Rakhee could not understand. When the inspector turned to the girl and began questioning her in Marathi, she grew alarmed and found it difficult to speak. She nodded weakly when she was asked if she was happy, and she did shake her head to say ‘no’ when asked if she found the work too much. But it was not the convincing support which Mrs Mulgavkar had hoped for.
Eventually the inspector explained to the child that she might have to go home to her parents because Surekha her guardian, had alleged that she was being very badly treated by Mrs Mulgavkar. At that point Rakhee burst into tears, clung to Mrs Mulgavkar and declared at the top of her voice that she never wanted to go back or to leave the lady she was with.
“ Why ? “ asked inspector Rai simply. Rakhee was no longer tongue tied. Words rushed out in a torrent.
“ Because at home I have to walk for hours to fetch water and then firewood. I don’t get enough to eat. Nobody teaches me reading and writing. I have no clothes to wear. If I can’t finish the work I am given, my father beats me. Please don’t ever send me back. Both Rakhee and the lady, were crying. Inspector Rai, looking at the two of them, needed to pull out a large handkerchief into which he proceeded to blow his nose loudly.
“Now I feel we have got to the truth of the matter,” he declared, after emerging from behind his handkerchief. “and of course, I dismiss the charges of cruelty to the child as being utter rubbish. But that still leaves you people with a problem because this girl is definitely underage, and employing her would be against the law.”
At that moment there was a movement in the doorway and Surekha appeared. She had been standing there unnoticed, watching the drama unfold. After Rakhee had had her say, she realised that nobody was prepared to believe the lies she had said about Mrs Mulgavkar. She realised also, that if Rakhee were to be sent back, not only would it hurt the girl and Mrs Mulgavkar, it would also hurt the girl’s parents and Surekha herself, since there would be no
more money paid out by Mrs Mulgavkar. All the people connected with Rakhee, had been getting a tidy income for doing nothing and now it was all going to be snatched away. Rakhee’s parents would never forgive Surekha for her blunder. Now it was up to Surekha to repair the damage she had done.
She smiled ingratiatingly at inspector Rai and Mrs Mulgavkar. Then she bent down and touched their feet, expressing a devotion and respect she didn’t really feel. Rakhee, she studiously ignored.
“ Well,” said the inspector, “ What have you to say for yourself ? “
“ I am deeply sorry for the trouble I have caused. I was mistaken about the girl being badly treated but I wanted to make sure it never happened. That’s why I had to do what I did.”
“ Is that why you were prepared to take back the charges against me if I paid you more money?” demanded Mrs Mulgavkar.
Surekha had no reply. Then, with a martyred expression she said “Never mind the extra money. I shan’t stand in your way if you wish to continue with our arrangement for the amount we had originally agreed.”
Turning to Mrs Mulgavkar, inspector Rai confided to her in English, “This woman is talking nonsense as usual. We cannot go back to the original arrangement of you employing Rakhee, because she is underage and will remain so for a long time to come.”
Wait! “ he added. “ there is one desperate gamble we could take.”
“And what would that be?” asked Mrs. Mulgavkar.
“Are you prepared to adopt Rakhee as your daughter?”
The lady required only the briefest of moments to reflect. “ Yes certainly “ she agreed. “ I would love to have Rakhee as my daughter. I would even give in to Surekha’s demand for more money if that made it possible.”
“ I am afraid giving money as an incentive is out of the question“ the inspector demurred . Even the amount you have been paying so far, would have to be revoked. It would be considered a bribe. If it were permitted, unscrupulous people wanting to get children into their clutches would simply offer money to the parents to legalise the adoption, and the children would suffer. Now leave it to me. Remember, I am on your side. I’ll do my best but
I promise nothing.”
Mrs Mulgavkar left the police station as she had come, hand in hand with Rakhee. Inspector Rai smiled, but It was not a smile of official approval, because permitting Rakhee to be led away by the lady was, technically speaking, highly incorrect.
Mrs Mulgavkar was now no longer Rakhee’s employer, and she was not yet her adoptive mother. But if Mrs Mulgavkar was not to look after her until her fate was decided, who was? The child could not be housed in a prison cell, because the cell was needed for criminals. Keeping her with the highly irresponsible Surekha was an equally unsatisfactory solution. Mrs Mulgavkar was obviously the best bet. The inspector smiled into his handkerchief yet again. He was actually beginning to enjoy finding himself in a compromising situation not of his making.
After Mrs Mulgavkar had left, inspector Rai turned to Surekha
“ You are a very stupid woman,” he said scathingly. “ By dragging the police into the affair, you have spoilt a harmless arrangement which was beneficial to a number of people including yourself. Worse, you have done a great deal of harm to an innocent child whose future had suddenly improved. Your greed made that future turn around completely, and go back to the dismal prospects it started with.”
“But it was I who improved the child’s future in the first place,” interrupted Surekha. “ I got her the job and talked her parents into letting her take it up. Please don’t forget that mister policeman. If there is anything I can do now, to set matters right, please tell me. I’ll do it.”
“ Yes, there is something you can do. Speak to the child’s parents and get them to agree to adoption. It will save them the expense of feeding one more person if the child were to go back to them. That is the only incentive I can offer. That, and of course the happiness and welfare of the child, if that means anything to you.”
Inspector Rai knew Surekha was no angel, and that unless there was some money coming her way, it was unlikely that she would take an interest in getting Rakhee’s parents to agree to the adoption. However, miracles do happen, and a penitent Surekha who now genuinely wanted to undo the harm she had done, did make the effort to approach Rakhee’s parents. She told them the police had found out that their daughter was working for Mrs Mulgavkar and were very annoyed because Rakhee was a minor. She did not, of course, tell them it was she who reported Mrs Mulgavkar to the police.
Anyway, she made it clear that Rakhee could not now stay on as an employee earning money, but could possibly stay as Mrs Mulgavkar’s adopted child instead. If the parents agreed to the adoption, they would no longer receive the one hundred rupees they used to get every month. The only advantage would be that they would not have to feed and look after her.
“ Does my daughter get enough to eat where she is? “ asked Rakhee’s mother. Surekha assured her that she did, and that she was growing bigger and more beautiful by the day.
“ Then let her stay and make a life for herself with her new family. Perhaps she will remember us and think kindly of us when she grows up “. The father agreed.
When Surekha went back to Inspector Rai and told him that the way was now clear for Rakhee to be adopted, he was very pleased, and conveyed the good news to Mrs Mulgavkar and Gita, who were overjoyed that Rakhee would be with them always. When all the legal requirements were met, and there was no chance of Rakhee’s parents changing their mind and asking for their daughter back again at some time in the future, Mrs Mulgavkar did something very generous. She decided to pay both Surekha and Rakhee’s parents the amount
she used to pay them regularly before. She was surprised to learn though, that out of the three hundred rupees she paid every month, Surekha had been taking two hundred and leaving only a hundred to Rakhee’s parents. So she lessened Surehka’s share by fifty rupees and increased the parents share by fifty, so both parties had an equal amount.
The story could end there but it doesn’t. We take it up again, fifteen years later. Gita and Rakhee are now, both in their twenties and both with a profession. Gita is a lawyer and attends court everyday, while Rakhee, who was always good at keeping accounts, has, as you might have guessed, become a Chartered Accountant. She works for an industrial firm and earns well. There have been other interesting developments also.
Mrs Mulgavkar is no longer Mrs Mulgavkar. She has now become Mrs Rai. She married police inspector Rai. But how, you may wonder, did that come about? Well, different members of the family, had different explanations. The girls felt their mother was lonely and needed companionship just as they did when they were young. Their choice of a companion for their mother was never in doubt. They went out of their way to get Mrs. Mulgavkar to ask the inspector over to the house because “he has such interesting stories to tell, about criminals and the cases he has been involved in”.
But Police inspector Rai was convinced that the idea of marrying Mrs Mulgavkar, was his entirely. Being a Police officer was his life, not only his professional life, but his private life as well. He felt Mrs Mulgavkar needed police protection all the time and he felt that was best provided by taking her under his wing and by changing her name to Rai.
As for Mrs Mulgavkar, she claims she was appalled at the huge quantities of tea and buttered bread that the worthy inspector consumed. On asking him whether his diet at home was any different, he assured her that it was.
“ I don’t have tea with only bread and butter, I sometimes have it with cakes and biscuits”, he explained. Mrs Mulgavkar thought that was all wrong, and since she felt the world was a better place for her having adopted Rakhee, she decided it would be better still, if she were, in a manner of speaking, to also adopt the inspector, and reform his living and eating habits.
So, apparently in response to the girls’ promptings, she found herself frequently inviting inspector Rai to dinner.
However, what really got the inspector to propose to the lady, was not so much the food as the fact that she evidently enjoyed his company, to have invited him over so often; and since he rather liked the lady all along but couldn’t find the courage to ask her to marry him, this was just the encouragement he needed. Yet, there was something he considered it discreet never to mention: he preferred his unworthy diet of tea, with bread and butter, biscuits or cake, to the wholesome food she so lovingly, placed before him.
However, he kept the information to himself because of what he considered to be ‘the greater good’. In the end, everybody was happy that Mrs Mulgavkar became Mrs Rai. Even the police force showed its approval by promoting inspector Rai and making him a more important policeman than he already was, and I mean important, not only to Mrs Rai.
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