I sat down with a sigh, savoring my hot cup of masala tea, quietly saying a prayer of thanks for Shanti, my cleaning lady who knew how to brew tea just the way I liked it. The fragrance of spices and fresh ginger intermingled with the woody scent of tea. It was the kind of moment in life that makes one feel – this is bliss.
Just then Shanti came to my room where I had just begun to weave dreams from the gentle mist that floated around me from the warm tea. She gave me a look that could kill and said “Memsaab, enough is enough. Choose one of us! Now!”
I got up with a sigh… not the sigh of satisfaction but the sigh of someone who has been anticipating this battle of wits for some time… and is only surprised it wasn’t sooner.
“Shanti, what are you talking about? What’s wrong?” I ask, my face full of innocence, even though I know full well exactly what the next words out of her mouth are going to be.
Shanti knows it too. She raises her eyebrows, conveying without a doubt that she’s not buying my attempt at nonchalance. So much for my acting skills.
“Memsaab, you know what I’m talking about. Me and… her!! We keep bumping into each other. She knows where I am and she lies in wait to pounce on me. And she’s soooo noisy! See how I come and quietly make your chai and do the work. This one just keeps getting in the way and tries to show off all the time.
“Bas Memsaab. Bas! Choose one of us. Now!”
I am superstitious and I can hear the hum of my other cleaner in the next room. “Sshhh” I hiss scandalously at Shanti. “Let’s not upset the situation even more. Listen you know why the arrangement had to change. The lockdown, the problems you had… I needed a backup option. I had no choice. And now it’s a help for you right. You don’t have to vacuum or mop anymore. You just take care of the rest my dear. And we already spoke about your salary. I’ll still pay you the same. I want you to take care of your health also.”
I flash my most winning smile and wait with baited breath. Her eyebrows don’t lower even a millimeter. I know I have to capitulate. We both know who’s really the boss between the two of us.
“Ok Shanti. I’ll sort out the schedule so it’s never both of you at the same time. What do you say?”
The eagerness in my voice and a solution she can live with results in a more normal arch of her eyebrows. A smile briefly plays on her lips. Her eyes shine with triumph. “Ok Memsaab. From tomorrow ok?”
“From right now Shanti! Right now!”
And I go pick up my smartphone, open my robotic cleaner app and choose the option to send “her” home.
She glides out of the room she was cleaning, slowly making her way to the charging station. Here I go, I think to myself. Shanti is convinced the robot is Shanta. Her arch nemesis.
She has me convinced too now, I think to myself as I go searching again for that misty, fragrant, steaming cup of tea. The one that only Shanti can get right.