Thursday, December 18, 2008


A beautiful girl was born to my servant about four years ago. Their first-born. The young couple named her Noorie after the father, Noor Hussain. The servant Asmaan, was herself just about a woman, gentle, her hair a soft black cascade down her back. Noorie came into their world after a late-term miscarriage of a previous pregnancy and many following prayers in their local Masjid. What a precious child she was! I was impressed by the hygiene and precautions that were taken by Asmaan in her daily baby-chores. Fresh buffalo milk was bought for her every morning, from the “officers’ doodhwaala”, as though that itself ascertains its purity! She was always in crisp clothes, warmly nestled in the winters. There was endless talk of Noorie getting good education in the future. I felt satisfied in the knowledge that at last, they (by that I mean, the poor, downtrodden, laborers, strugglers, the servant class, in one word) understand the necessity of educating a female child.

I remember buying a pair of pretty pink shoes for her from lifestyles, for her first birthday. Soon after that my daughter was born, and we moved away.

We moved back into this town recently, and after settling down, just a house away from our old bungalow, I decided to hunt my old maid out and employ her again, vouching for her obedience and gentleness. It was sardonically pointed out to me that Asmaan might not be the same person three years down the line; poverty gets to everyone in the end. I might be in for a nasty surprise.

Well, I was nastily surprised. Asmaan now lives in the white-washed line of servants’ quarters behind our neat row of gardened bungalows. She has had two more babies, in the two years, all girls. My new maid tells me it’s the quest for a son. There’s certain hardness about the gentle Asmaan I remember. Maybe it’s her hair. They seem pulled back and tied too tightly. Every now and then I hear a cacophony of kids and her harsh voice, followed by trademark snippets of slapping and lashing. Noorie is being beaten black and blue for mischievousness.

Noorie……sigh. Noorie does not go to school. She is no longer a prim loved only child who had only buffalo milk.. There are more mouths to feed below her. A bevy of them, another on the way. Thin as a reed, chapped cheeks, unslippered feet scurrying about, soiled clothes (not enough of them, though) I see her playing over her once-doting father’s rickshaw. Her hair is that characteristic color poor children have. An unkempt light brown. One of her jobs is to care for her youngest sibling when mummy’s gone for work. She beats up her young sisters every chance she gets. Maybe there’s an unsaid complaint in her heart. Maybe she subconsciously remembers those long gone hours when her mother cooed softly into her tiny ears. Soft loving words, a warm lap snatched away from her only too soon. Maybe she knows she has seen better days.

Sometimes my girl goes back there and bullies Noorie. My three year old is treated with great reverence out there in the back…..where our kitchen garden ends and the servant’s squalor begins. Even at this oblivious age, my baby somehow understands she’s supposedly superior to that dark dirty bunch there. How? I watch from my bedroom window. How? I want to know. Aren’t children the same? Gifts of joy from God?

Last week I gave Asmaan some sweaters for Noorie. I have yet to see Noorie wearing them. I wonder what Asmaan has done with them. Sold them perhaps?


  1. I don't know, maybe all this runs in our stream somewhere, which helps us mark the difference from childhood. I guess its hygiene!! At home, mommy would slap you right on your hand if you even touch food with soiled hands and the poor kids... all they get to eat is soiled food... it all starts there I guess... living on good food and clothes - and - just some food and torn clothes for living...

    I actually thought, the 2nd half of the post would say how Noorie's doing at school!! :| But yeah, reality catches up... and its just the hope that lives on...

    See you when I see you... :)

  2. Well I am so sorry to point it out as I am yet a stranger to you... BUT still what comes in mind must be said...
    So you had a chance to do something. It would have given a triumph to you today. Its still now late I guess :)

  3. @ bardrox,
    i've actually stopped the sympathising for reasons stated below...
    @ pranav,
    @ Afaque,
    after Noorie was born, Asmaan got an immediate pregnancy terminated. her resons were that she does'nt want another child before 3-4 yrs. "abhi hamein Noorie to padaana hai, paise ekhatte karaeinge". i had lended money to her for the proceedure. after that i took her to a health clinic for councelling on family-planning and contraception. even if she was open to the idea, and came on my insistance, i knew her husband felt it was against their religious beliefs! but i strongly beleived she had more sense.
    obviously she did'nt. i thought she was above the "son-syndrome" which seems to plague the poor-lot. obviously she isn't. sure enough, i've come back here to find her with a steady line of babies, wanting a son, and continuing reproducing until she has one. in the bargain, there's never enough money to educate all of them. or maybe they don't find it neccesary. Definately, if she has that much desired son, he would be going to school.
    what can u do?
    I've given up. u cannot help someone who does not see the reason for it.

  4. hmm, poverty strikes again. its not hard for me to believe this incident as i've observed the same with a servant in my grandmother's home. however, i cannot imagine why people(only poor?) are so bothered about having a son. on the other hand its true that a daughter leaves home at some stage of life and its left to a son to take over the reins of the family. it bothers me very much that tender childhood is lost for most of the poor.

    we all should strive for a better society around us. i figured out the idea of supporting the child for her education but your response in the comments made me think again. probably, poor parents need education more so than poor children and put a rest to this son-hysteria.

  5. @ dolphin

    if financial help is extended to a family so as to aducate a girl, most probably that money would be used elsewhere. if forced to do what we wish them to do with the money, resentment follows. i think its a vicious cycle. the mother is uneducated, so does'nt find the need to educate daughters, after all, what good would it bring to her?? we would still be paying dowry, that's the argument. whereas an educated son would bring in monetory support in the long run. its a rut, this breeds more uneduation, and other social demons like female-infanticide, dowry, underage-workers, large unfed families...which in turn breed more illitracy.

    personally, i don't understand the concept of son-hysteria. i feel daughters provide more emotional support and loving care than sons, for the obvious reason, the sons have their own families to support in everyway( emotional and financial) which becomes a complete preoccupation and a drain. as males, they are not are not capable of as much emotional charity as women are.

  6. I agree totally...both, about the emotional part and the fact that financial help is rarely/never used for the girl child.

  7. As I said earlier, we are strangers to each other. Sorry about pointing it out earlier but you did what was needed. There are too much impediments even when one wants to do good to people. I understand. But we must keep on trying endlessly for you know its a Muslim belief that even you just think about doing good, you will definitely get some reward.

  8. btw I am not Anti-anybody and not at all anti-India. I am really awed by the people there. I wish I could be among them physically too (as I feel good interacting with them here)... That is the reason even I get more traffic from India than Pakistan.
    I know there are segments of society on both sides and our job is to criticize them whenever and wherever we have a chance. I don't like to have generalized views.

    A reply to your comment there is waiting for your consideration :)

  9. I just cant find enough words to say what exactly is going on in my mind.. such incidents leave a lump in my throat.. I had such an encounter too. When i was a kid, i had a Rickshaw-wala who used to haul all of us to school. he had a cute daughter, 1 year yonger to me. He used to dote on her, send her to school. and whenevr we used to buy chocolates for ourselves on our way back home, he made us buy one for his daughter too. One day, his mom and dad came over to stay with him and they made him stop his girl's education. I was a kid back then, but when i heard about her not going to school i offered her my books at the end of the year so tht she can study at home. Li'l did i know abt the thinking of those ppl. Now, that girl is married to a drunkard rickshaw puller, has two kids, and she washes utensils at ppl's homes. I think if she would have studied even till basic 12th, she would have got a better paying job as a kid's aayah or something... dont know wat to do...

  10. @ afaque

    hey. yes, and i sure hope the reward is that God inspires better sense in the less-bestowed.
    i understand u wrote your post in question earlier than the facts actually came out. hmm, i'm absolutely certain there are people exactly like us in pakistan too, who are urban, educated global citizens with sensitive minds. after all, weren't these to nations one before 1947? we have the same blood sired by the same land, afaque.
    i think its high time the pressing issues between our countries get sorted through a serious dialogue. i'm referring to kashmir. only then will we see peace in our lifetimes. unfortunately all our polititions do is skirt the main issues.

  11. @ sweetsmile,

    you're right. if only, somehow, they educate a girl child till 12th standard, it would make a world of difference. at least this girl u mentioned, or even noorie, would not have married a drunken rickshaw-puller. she might have got a job as a sales-girl or governess. married a clerk, maybe.her kids would've had better education. she would've broken the endless cycle of poverty.

  12. is that noorie in the pic? hmm she is a little cherub for sure!

    very poignant essay. especially the part about even a child being aware about being somehow superior.

    true, poverty is a vicious circle. as much as the poor's own responsibility, its as much the State's responsibility to do something, and yes, also ours, as privileged citizens.

  13. Awww. Even I had these poor people living in my servant quarter attached to my house. Very disheartening it is to see the girl child being discriminated. But nothing much we can do. Or let me put it as nothing much I could do.
    We live on. And so does everyone.


    PS: Whats up with your vacation? ;)

  14. @ pankaj

    hey, no man, that ain't her. i felt it would look too wierd if memsaab lands up back there with a camera!
    hmmm, i remember as a little child, i thought anyone who does'nt look pretty must be poor.

  15. @ comfortably numb

    hey mr. pink floyd, good to see you back! hmm, tis true the privilaged ones live on.

    vacations been postponed by a couple o days. how are you faring in those exams?...;)

  16. i agree that illiteracy is the root of all but i do not agree that sons do not provide as emotional support as daughters do as they themselves have a family. Madam, daughters also have their own families and they're occupied with that as well. i believe every individual supports family in his/her own way. now, i'm not saying that daughters do not provide as financial support as sons do ;) no offence meant! i thought a clarification is needed so i just elaborated :D i don't think you'd mind that!

    @arafique 8th comment
    why are you so awed at Indians?

  17. Its such an heart-wrenching narration. Hope things change in this country!

  18. @ dolphin

    hey, you're absolutely right. every individual provides support in his or her own way and yes, daughters too have their families to look after. all i was trying to say was, women are emotionally more charitable (with exceptions, of course! u have to agree). mostly i've noticed men lack that sort of emotion spree....exceptions there too...
    did'nt mean it as a hurtful comment, but well, girls are darlings!!!

  19. @ twisted elegance

    yes, i hear you. i hope so too...:(
    and hey, thanks for visiting, hope to see more of you.

  20. ahh, you played it diplomatic this time. haha! but you're right in some ways that woman is more emotionally supportive :(

  21. Another one of those true stories when ur forced to ask question to urself as to why somethings are like the way they are.....?

    Are we goin to be just a mute spectator to this...?

  22. Just shut up! Wonder where on earth characters like you creep out from! Look at your words...servant...downtrodden! 'Sensitivity' Is the word! And, Can't belive people like you exist!

  23. @ anonymous,
    whoa !! what?!!
    let me just say to your first querry, it takes all kinds to make this world, sweetie. yup, my kind exist too!
    well, there are a certain kind of employees which come in the catagory of "servant" whether its appeasing to your senses or not. unfortunately, most of them have been trampled on, and treated well only in the lucky cases...more than 50 percent of indian citizen are practically downtrodden.lets face the facts as they stand first, and then go on a name-calling spree.


lemme know what u think...share your thoughts on the post. Comments, critisicm, all is let it loose!


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