The Cage

English Translation: Dr K. Meerabai

Telugu original: “Panjaram” by Dr K. Meerabai

By the time Madhavi alighted from the taxi, Mohan was locking the house.
Mohan turned his head at the sound of the car coming to a stop.
“ Our baby has slight fever. I asked Sarada,the baby-sitter in the crèche, to administer fever medicine to the baby. She was concerned whether the other children would be infected. If possible bring the baby home. Take rest. Ok. “
He said in a hurry and started his motorbike.
Madhavi stepped into the house listlessly. She took the water bottle from the fridge and drank the cool water. She walked up to the doorstep with the intention of bringing her baby back home. But her body and mind, after having worked from night 9 PM to morning 8 AM, did not cooperate. She felt weak and sat down in the chair.
On second thought she felt until she got some sleep, she would not be able to look after the baby .She rang up the crèche. Sarada answered the phone.
“ Madhavi speaking please. How is the baby? Is she crying? Does she have high temperature? “ Madhavi enquired.
“ Nothing to worry. She is sleeping. I will give the Medicine after one hour.” Sarada said.
Madhavi felt relieved. “ OKAY. I will pick her up early in the evening.” She told her.
She went to their bedroom and changed her dress. There was a small note on the dressing table.
“You will find vegetable curry and sambar in the fridge. Heat it in the microwave. Don’t go to sleep without eating. “ Mohan’s handwriting was neat.
Usually she would cook in the evening for night and next day. Mohan would pack the lunch in the morning without fussing.
It was his duty to wake up their daughter, three year old Pavani, brush her teeth, change her dress, feed her and drop her in the crèche. He never complained.
Her love for him brought a smile to her face.
His day would be spent in the office . Madhavi’s work began at at nine in the night. It might be morning eight in California. All the quires of the people living in the west coast of America with regard to bank, office , and medical advice would be diverted to India.As the details already had been fed into the system, call centre workers would answer the queries .
Labour charges in America were high. Even those working in malls would be paid ten dollars an hour.Many of the Indian women who accompanied their husbands to America worked in malls like Macy, JC Penny and Walmart till they got work permit .
By paying one tenth of that amount American. companies would get the work done in India.
Because of such employment opportunities even an ordinary graduate like her was able to get thousands of rupees as salary.
But there was no time to enjoy the company of her husband and child. All the five days she had to race against time.
Madhavi’s thoughts went on as she finished taking bath. It was 11 AM by the time she ate the cold lunch.
She must get at least four hours sleep In order to be able to work the whole night. She opened her bag and took a sleeping pill and tried to sleep.
Within ten minutes she was up thinking of the baby. ‘What if the baby still had fever? Would Sarada remember to give the medicine? Would it not be better to bring the baby home? ‘
Madhavi called Sarada.
“ Did you give the medicine to the baby?” She asked anxiously.
“ I said I would.” Sarala’s voice sounded impatient.
“ Sorry. Is she running temperature? Hope she is not crying.” Madhavi was pleading.
“ If you want to take her home please do.” Sarada cut the call.
Sarada knew very well that Madhavi was working in a call centre and she would be working the whole night. She also knew unless Madhavi slept for some time, it would be impossible for her to attend to her duty. If by any chance the child had to be in the crèche for an extra hour, Madhavi would pay extra money.
There were tears in Madhavi’s eyes as she realised that Sarada could talk like that because she knew Madhavi was helpless and depended on her.
Madhavi dipped her hand kerchief in ice water, covered her burning eyes with it and slept. She went on sleeping till five in the evening.
Mohan who was returning home early rang up Sarada to enquire whether Madhavi had taken the baby home.
She replied in the negative.
Mohan picked the baby and came home. Madhavi was in such deep sleep that she did not answer the calling bell.
Mohan called her on her phone.
Madhavi took it instantly and replied in a neutral tone “ Hell! Maddy speaking . What can I do for you?”
After a second she realised that she was not in her office, but in her bedroom.
She heard Mohan’s impatient voice “ will you please open the door? I have been waiting at the doorstep with the baby on my shoulder.”
Madhavi ran to the front door, opened it and took the baby into her hands saying “ how is she”.
“ I thought you might have picked up the baby in the afternoon”. Mohan said in an accusing tone.
Madhavi’s eyes filled with tears.
“ Yes. I thought of going. But after having worked for ten hours without sleep in the night, my body and mind refused to cooperate. If I don’t get some sleep I won’t be able to attend to office tonight. If I leave the job paying me thousands of rupees salary, how can we get this luxurious life?” Replying in the same accusatory tone, Madhavi went to the kitchen to get milk for the child.
Mohan’s manly pride got hurt and he curtly replied “ I can take care of both of you”.
The child who was feeling good by this time , started playing with her dolls.
Madhavi after having fixed coffee for Mohan, got busily engaged in cooking.
She finished her work in the kitchen and set the table.
After taking bath she was standing in front of the mirror in her transparent night dress, using body spray, getting ready for the office.
Mohan embraced her from behind, put his face in the grove of her neck and said “ sorry dear. I was worried about the baby and was rude to you.”
“It is okay. Let us have our dinner.” She freed herself from him and said.
“Yes. After dinner your cab will be there to pick you. That is it”. He wailed.
“Excepting on Saturday and Sunday that is the routine.” Saying so, Madhavi walked into the dining room.
She fed the baby, kissed her, gave her dolls to play with and then served for Mohan and herself.
All the time Mohan’s longing looks followed her.
By the time she was ready to leave, the cab was at the door.
Pavani started crying “ momma no office. I want momma .”
Mohan held her in his hands and was trying to pacify her “ I will tell you a story okay ! Say bye to mamma.”
Madhavi looked at them helplessly, put on her shoes and got into the cab.
From 10 PM to next day 8 AM she was not Madhavi but Maddy. She would be talking in a language that was not her’s, responding to the name that was not her’s and answering to queries from strangers living in a distant country. In the meanwhile she had to be friendly with her colleagues irrespective of their gender, bearing their familiar pats on her shoulder .
Which one of these two characters was her true self was a confusing question to her.
Madhavi was sitting tensely on the edge of the car seat till another lady colleague got into the cab at the next point.
“What did she achieve from this kind of life? She had to wait till the weekend to have some private time with her husband. Those two days would go in a jiffy – in shopping for the essentials,babysitting and trying to get as much togetherness as possible.” Madhavi mused.
“Already missing your hubby?” her colleague smiled at her.
Madhavi checked her pointing at the cab driver.
The moment she entered the office one colleague complimented her” Hi Maddy! Looking sexy “.
She just smiled and stepped into her cubicle.
After an hour Jane( Janaki) came there excitedly announcing “This Saturday we are going to have fun. We have a party at Golkonda.
These kind of parties would leave Madhavi in a dilemma. If she said she would not join, people looked at her as spoil-sport and branded her wet blanket.
Even if Mohan encouraged her to go, she rued missing one of the two valuable days of the weekend.
Next morning Madhavi came home an hour earlier than her regular time.She covered herself fully as if she had fever and ran into the house.
Mohan who was standing in front of he mirror,engaged in shaving his beard, was shocked at the expression in Madhavi’s face and dashed to her to hold her tightly.
“ Oh my God! What happened Madhavi?”
Madhavi’s face was drained of all blood and looked pale. Her lips were quivering as if she was unwell.
“ You know my colleague Rosy. Her cab driver raped her it seems. She was admitted into the hospital and the driver was arrested.” Madhavi was crying when she spoke.
Mohan led her to the sofa, made her drink water and sat by her side patting her back as if to instil courage.
“Mohan! Yesterday you said you could run the home on your own. Are you serious? If so, I will resign this job Mohan.” Madhavi’s voice was shaking .
Mohan did not reply. He got up slowly, picked up Madhavi’s bag, and brought a pill from it. He cajoled her to swallow it.
“ Try to sleep for some time. “ he said.
Madhavi stared into his eyes for an instant and closed her eyes. The feelings of pain, fear and helplessness in his eyes touched her heart.
They paid two lakh as advance for a new flat. The rest of eight lakh rupees was to be paid in a year and half. Or they would forfeit the advance paid. The loan on furniture was yet to be paid. They took an insurance policy recently. All these financial commitments were undertaken based on their two salaries.
‘ Would it be possible for her to resign? Even if Mohan insisted ,could she easily leave that life she had been used to? Would it be possible to give up the safety and stability guaranteed by the monthly salary she received?
As if all these thoughts drained her of her strength, Madhavi closed her tearful eyes.
A bird used to a cage would not try to fly away even if the cage were open.


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