Two pairs of worn out slippers cushion the brisk onward march of two petite girls.
Sudha and Radha, dressed alike in maroon polyester sarees are on their way to work.
Sudha used to help with household chores at her employers house earlier. Now, she works as a hospice for her employer’s wife who is terminally ill, lying in a comatose state at home.
Radha is a cook. A pretty good one in fact.
She has been the in-house cook for a wealthy family in a posh locality for a year now.
The sisters ended up in Delhi in search of work a couple of years ago. Sudha was just 16 then and Radha a year younger.
They decided to work so that they could send their little brother to school so that one day their family could finally climb out of the valley of poverty they’d dwelt in ever since they’d known life.
And life wasn’t easy for the young girls. They slept in a little makeshift room in the workers ghetto behind the railway station. They would spend the majority of the money back home for family.
They could afford only one meal a day,
But they were happy, for they were working for something larger than themselves.
Radha would often feel tempted to eat the food she cooked for the family. She had great culinary skills. The whole locality would be able to guess what was cooking whenever she cooked.
But since the food was so delicious, there would never be any left over food for her to enjoy the next morning.
Sudha’s employer (who she calls Sahib) was a hopeful man. He always believed that his wife will spring back to life and vitality the next morning.
He made sure Sudha prepared a bland Khichdi for his wife every single day,
Hoping that when his wife wakes up, she will savour the food.
But for the past one year, the woman has been on the bed, not blinking, not moving.
Sudha cooks with hope everyday still.
But her hope is different from that of her Sahib.
At the end of the day,
When she’s heading home, she gets to carry the uneaten meal of Khichdi which she prepares for the patient every morning.
That khichdi is the meal both sisters share in the evening as their solitary meal of the day.
Their lives have been running on the monorail of this monotony for the past year.
But something changed in both their lives in the past 24 hours.
Yesterday, Radha’s employer had a party at their home. She was asked to prepare a Biryani with Raita for the 30 odd guests expected. Radha, adept at her skill, cooked up a fragrant Potful of Biryani with a delicious Raita to go with it.
Today morning, when she went to work she found the aroma of the biryani still lingering around.
She checked the pot to find some leftover Biryani from yesterday.
She scraped the whole pot clean and filled up a polyethylene bag with the Biryani.
She scrubbed the pot clean and got to her usual work.
Singing to herself as she worked, her happiness knew no bounds. She couldn’t wait for dinner time when she would finally be able to share a good meal with her sister Sudha.
She had had enough of the bland khichdi Sudha used to bring every evening.
After finishing work, Radha quickly headed to her quarters in the workers colony. She heated up the biryani over a kerosene stove, laid out a plate and waited patiently for Sudha to come home.
‘Sudha! What took you so long !’ she cried out once Sudha entered the room.
‘Come , sit, we shall have something different for our dinner today !’ Radha exclaimed.
Sudha sat down solemnly.
‘What happened Sudha, you look gloomy’
‘Let us eat little sister’ Sudha spoke feebly.
Both of them took a morsel each of the fragrant rice. Radha waited in anticipation for Sudha’s appraisal but she wouldn’t speak a word. She ate quietly.
‘What is the matter Sudha ?’ Radha enquired comforting her with a touch.
‘Sahib’s wife passed away last night.’
There was an unsettling silence in the room.
Both took another morsel of the delicious biryani.
But all they could taste,
was the hunger that awaited
the next evening.