The buses are always crowded in Kolkata. Especially, in the evenings. People wanting to reach their homes as soon as possible want to take the very first bus that comes their way. They are so restless to reach the home that they leave all the reason behind and think that there will be only one bus going to their homes. So, they all bundle themselves into the first bus that go to the route of their homes.
It was one of those evenings when I was going home from office in a bus, it was so packed that it resembled the cages in which chickens are carried. It was so humid in the bus that I was literally feeling suffocated. Then at one stop some persons alighted and it made some space for the air to flow and some space to sit as well.
In the throng of the bus one face attracted my attention. She was wearing a simple Saree and was in her late forties. She had a girl around 20 years of age with her. She seemed very familiar to me. I felt a sudden urge to talk to her to know how I know her. Then suddenly I recalled that she used to come to our hostel when I was doing my MBA some 10 years ago.
Early in the morning, she used to come knocking on the door. I used to hate opening the door in the morning but my stubborn room-mate had decided not to budge for morning cleaning of the room, so left with no option, I had to open the door in the mornings. With my eyes half shut, I used to open the door and she used to clean the floor while both dwellers of the room slept.
Amid the tensions of the semesters and exams, it never occurred that how important role she had played in making the stay at the hostel comfortable. I passed the course and expressed my gratitude to professors and other teaching assistants. But failed to recognize her efforts. For that now I feel ashamed.
It never occurred that had it not been for her meticulous cleaning, I could not have passed the course. She helped maintain the hygiene of our room, otherwise the kind of filth we had in our room, we would have easily fallen prey to infectious diseases .
Both of the dwellers were enemy of cleanliness, cigerate butts, booze that we used to throw up in the room, stinky tea maker machines (that we mostly used for making ‘maggi’) used to deck up our room. Any normal person would have ostracised us, but she never hated us.
Without ever complaining she cleaned everything, every time.
Now she was alighting on one of the stop. I decided to tell her how much value she had in my life. I also got down the bus.
I followed her. She seemed nervous because of my following so I called out “Mausi, it is me!”
By being addressed as ‘Mausi’, she gained some faith in me that I was not that harmful. I went close to her, but her eyes kept lost in my face. She looked pale and sick. Hardships of life had clear imprints on the premature wrinkles on her face.
I got that she was being unable to recognize me, ten years is always a long time. So, I told her whole story as to how I knew her. I touched her feet. Tears welled up in her eyes.
I invited her for a cup of tea, to which she agreed. I hailed a taxi. She said that tea stall was near by. I told her that I wanted her to taste a special cup of tea. She didn’t complain. She and her daughter sat in the taxi. Perhaps they were sitting in a taxi for the first time. Their faces had streaks of happiness of sitting in a taxi.
I took them to a plushy restaurant of the city and ordered best of tea and best of food for them. Her daughter packed some food for her younger siblings also. Both Mausi and her daughter were really delighted. Her pale face blossomed like a fresh flower. I got immense happiness seeing them happy.
I gave her my number while parting so that she could call me if there is any problem. That evening I felt as if I had completed something that I had left incomplete.