They were never always this poor. She did study when she was young and her father wanted her to study more and earn for herself but things changed one fine day. Her father a railway guard died in a train accident. The whole family was shattered. The pension was meager and the mouths to feed were many. Anvita took it on her to earn for them, she would do odd jobs, try teaching some school kids and give whatever she could earn to her mother and her 4 brothers and sisters. To ease the burden, her mother did what most families in that situation would. She got Anvita married off to the village boy who had a job in the city. Things happened in a flurry since. The marriage, the dowry paid by her mother, the pleadings, bickering followed. Anvita knew that her escape lay in this disastrous marriage, she would go to the city, start a life and earn for herself.
The dream shattered very soon. On reaching the city she faced reality which appeared much severe than the village. The husband had lost his job a year back, he was living off some savings, the house was a rat hole- a one room behind the Kanpur station. There was hardly electricity ever, water had to be drawn and got everyday and the neighbours were noisy and jobless. Her husband sat at home the whole day and told her categorically that she needed to earn for them. This seemed ages ago now. She had toiled everyday, took up maid’ jobs in the quarters nearby, she did some stitching in her spare time and sometimes taught in the night school. Her family had now grown, she had managed to save up some money and they now lived in a cleaner two room premises. Her children went to school. Over time her husband started working for 10 odd days in month as a labourer and earned some money. Their lives were much better comparatively.
She felt the happiest pinning her saree and going to work at Mrs Tewari’s house. She was so nice, she always asked about her, gave her to eat and always encouraged her. She would keep her money with her and save up for the future.
It was one such day when Anvita had just entered Mrs.Tewari’s house. I will be back soon said Mrs Tewari and left the house. Anvita was in the kitchen and decided to finish the fries before shutting the door. Ji madame she said and continued with her task at hand. Glancing up she saw the apron hung in the kitchen wall. The oil was still simmering and she wandered towards the apron. She had always seen Mrs. Tewari wearing this while in the kitchen and curiously Anvita took it out and put it round her neck. Useful thing she thought, now no oil stains on her neatly starched saree as she continued frying the potatoes.
Hello is anyone there.. hello…….. came a voice. Anvita quickly ran out to see a young lady at the door. She opened the door ajar and started talking. Anivita started blurting that madame was out but this young lady was so excited, she started saying oh my what a beautiful house you have Mrs. Tewari, its so beautiful, I hope I did not disturb you, I am Alpana. She plonked on the sofa and smiled at Anvita saying that she and her family have just moved on the first floor and she has just come to meet the neighbors. Anvita again opened her mouth to clarify but Alpana started her story of her move, her family, the locality urging Anvita to join her. Anivita tried several times to interrupt her but gave up after a while. She sat down on the leather sofa, smiled back inquired about her, told her about her family and her neighborhood.
The afternoon went by and as Anvita lay in her bed at night. She wondered and smiled. She actually lived a different identity this afternoon and for the brief twenty minutes she forgot who she was, she forgot the tiredness, the problems and she was Mrs. Tewari at the railway quarters in Kanpur. It felt amazing to be able to converse with someone and not worry about a thing. Maybe she will never have this in life and maybe she will always be Anvita, the maid but for this brief time she lived the mistaken identity. If it was not for her circumstances she could be there, she could be her but she won’t , she can’t. She had come to terms with her reality ages ago but this one time in this make believe world made her feel very alive. The unlikely moment became possible at least once.. Maybe she would live her life on the surreal hope which the mistaken identity gave her…