The #TakeCharge Story Of A Domestic Help From Mumbai

Last updated 14 Mar 2018 . 1 min read

Sugandha, was 16 years old when her marriage was arranged to Sudhir, who lived three houses from hers in their little village. Sugandha hasn't received much of an education, the gender roles were defined in their community – the men study and earn bread, women stay at home to make a meal from it.

She had never really questioned it. Her mother insisted on her learning the household chores so she wouldn’t bring shame to the family when she went to her in-laws’ home.

Sugandha and Sudhir created a little world for themselves, it was simple, and they led a happy life. At 19, she became a mother to a lovely little boy they named Deepak. A joyous new addition to the family. Her life revolved around the two men in her life and she wasn’t complaining in the least bit, she was a devoted wife and a doting mother.

When a harsh reality came crashing down on her

However, their happy little universe was torn apart when one day, Sudhir passed away in a bike accident. It was so sudden that Sugandha didn’t know how to react, a part of her kept thinking this was a nightmare she’d wake up from. Days passed and when she didn’t wake up, she began to realise that this was her cold, harsh reality.

A simple woman with a simple life suddenly was left to fend not just for herself but her son too. While her parents and in-laws extended tremendous emotional support to her, she knew they did not have the means to do much for her financially. Not that she would ever ask, she was one proud woman despite everything life had thrown at her.

Marching to the city of dreams

Her son in one arm and a trunk of all their belongings in another, Sugandha set off for Mumbai with whatever little money she had. Surely, the city of dreams would have a little hope to offer to her.

Arriving here, however, as her bubble burst, she realised how utterly wrong she had been.

She had lived a sheltered life, packaged off from her parents’ home to her husband’s. Coming to Mumbai, she realised how cocooned her existence had been. She wasn’t educated. She had no skills that could land her a job. She had no place to call home or person to turn to for help. The money she had brought with her was running out.

Stripped of all hope, Sugandha broke down many, many times. But her little boy’s face would keep her going. Young Deepak had indeed turned into the guiding light of her life. And she’d wake up every morning with renewed determination to find herself a way to earn money. Every person turned her away with the same explanation, they couldn’t hire someone who had no skills, there was nothing she could do.

Ray of hope shimmered through the dark clouds

In a sudden flash of inspiration, she realised there was something she could do very well, something her mother had taught her how to do well her whole life – household chores. Soon enough, she started working as a domestic help for a family in Andheri who also offered to give her a room to stay till she could find something for herself. As word about the quality of her work spread, the number of houses she worked at started to multiply.

Soon enough, she rented out a room in a nearby slum and got Deepak enrolled in a school.

Years passed. Eventually, she managed to buy the home she lived in and Deepak cleared his tenth standard boards with flying colours and acquired a seat in a good engineering college. It was only a matter of a few years, she thought, soon Deepak would graduate and become an engineer and they’d finally be able to live the kind of life she’d imagined for her child.

Destiny had other plans….better ones!

The land of the slum she lived in was purchased by a builder. Under the Slum Redevelopment program, when the builder would make a housing complex, one building was reserved for the original inhabitants of the slum. Sugandha and Deepak moved into a temporary house on rent while the construction was in progress.

What ensued was a good few years of following up with the builder and government officials but such things hardly fazed her now.

Today, Sugandha owns a 2BHK apartment in Andheri. Deepak graduates next year and then won’t have to work anymore. But she will continue to.

“I have no shame in being a domestic help,” she says, “It is the sole reason I have everything I have now. It was the one thing that bailed me out when my life was falling apart. Besides, it makes me happy.”

The docile and timid Sugandha is barely recognisable in this strong and independent woman she is today. If you ask her about it, she says it seems like a lifetime ago. But that’s what strong women do. They take the sourest lemons life has to offer and turn it into something a lip smacking lemonade.


*Names changed upon request

Palak Kapadia

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