"Parool","Aye Parool" banging on our old styled Iron entrance gate was a voice coming from a distance. "Paro, please leave everything and answer your mother, she is such a crackpot!", said my mother annoyingly. Paro was evidently upset, she tossed the broom which she held in her hand and quickly ran to respond to her mother's call. First she grumbled, then shouted from our balcony in Bangla (Language spoken in Bangladesh and India) "Ki Holo"(what happened). Me and my younger sister, ran behind her to catch a glimpse of her mother. This was a trend, as her mother's shabby and weird looks always amused us and we often thought of her to be practicing black magic.
One summer afternoon, when my mother was applying hair oil onto my long thick hair, a girl somewhere in her mid teens, appeared in front of us. She was wearing a sari, wrapped in Bengali style, it was too filthy to distinguish its actual color but looked more towards muddy white with floral prints, which evidently had faded. "Bhabhiji" (sister in law) she said, "Noori won't be coming for work as she is sick, so she sent me for work". My mother, who was a school teacher was surprised to hear this news, as Noori seemed to be as fit as a fiddle until a day before. However she seemed to be more relieved on seeing a substitute for Noori to help her out with the household chores. What's your name? asked my mother, "Parool" the girl answered. "Oh! Paro, I remember that name from a famous classic Indian movie "Devdas", said my mother. Apparently, my mother didn't find much of a difference between the two names "Parool" or "Paro" and so she chose to call her "Paro".
Next day Noori excused herself from the work again and sent Paro instead. Unlike Noori, Paro was smelly and not as put together as her counterpart. However, there was something about her that convinced my mother to offer her a position as Noori's replacement, and to her pleasant surprise Paro instantly agreed. Noori was not at all like a regular house helper, she was very savvy in her approach. She used to work for multiple households for a limited time during the day and would usually never go an extra mile to help, if ever asked for. On the other hand, Paro seemed to have the whole day to herself, perhaps she would never really want to leave. She would willingly do numerous petty jobs and would happily spend the whole day in our house.
We gradually learnt, that Paro was an illegal Bangladeshi immigrant in India. She moved into our city only a few months ago with her distressed mother. This was revealed to us when my mother finally went to look for Noori for her final settlement, and got this shocking revelation of Noori gotten off married to a man almost double her age. Paro was Noori's neighbour who lived close to her house in a very small hut done with straws. Noori was barely 15 years old and this news of her marriage shook my mother to an extent, that she decided to offer Paro a better salary and made sure that she is not compelled to take any such step in the future.
Paro started coming to our house every single day without a miss, she would never ask for a leave or a holiday, not even during festivals. My mother was too happy to finally have found somebody as dedicated as her. Moreover, me and my sister got a new partner in crime. Almost every afternoon, when Paro was done with her work, we would ask her to climb up the neighbour's wall to pick "Karonda" (Cranberry) from her bushes. Paro would gladly do anything we would ask for and it seems she secretly considered herself to be an unannounced member of our team. We on the other hand, got an unremitting member who was ready to do anything in order to please us, thus we wouldn't mind her playing with us. Having said that, the only thing which bothered me sometimes were her stinky clothes, they would often smell of rotten eggs or fish. She used to make a bun, which would proudly sit on her crown in the morning when she showed up for work, but would eventually fall loose by the noon and would give her a completely distorted look by the end of the day. Her eyes were large and bright but her brittle teeth which would be visible from time to time whenever she smiled, often left me suspicious of her consuming tobacco.
One such afternoon when we were playing on the terrace, Paro pointed out towards the mansion of our very rich neighbor. She told us, that she lived in a house like that back in Bangladesh. Although it was hard to believe, but me and my sister chose not to mock at her presumably fake story as that would be rude. Paro continued telling us about how her father married another woman, and in due course abandoned her and her mother. Perhaps this part of her story made us a little gloomy for a while, but soon after we revived back to our game of tag.
My grandfather, who had lived in Kolkata (West Bengal) for many years, would often used to have conversations with Paro in her native language. One could easily see Paro's eyes gleeming with delight while talking to him. Since Paro didn't know how to read and write, I decided to tutor her. I asked her to spend an hour every afternoon with me learning the same. I was rather surprised to see Paro being an exceptionally good student, she learned how to read and write her name in Hindi as well as English within a week.
An year passed by and Paro had become a part of our family. Off-late, my mother wasn't keeping well and she was mostly confined to the bed. If asked what happened, my grandmother would tell us that the doctor has asked her to rest for a few weeks. I was concerned about my mother's health and would readily do any task she would ask me to do. Besides, because of this recent development, Paro started spending even more time with us. She would stay back till late at night and would often cook meals for our family. However, I felt that due to the lack of supervision by my mother, Paro was mostly self governed and would often talk to me and my sister with profanity. She would jump onto our couch and would watch TV alongside us, something which we were not accustomed to. Her uninhibited behavior started bothering me but I chose not to react. However one such evening, she crossed her limits when she blurted out certain abusive words for me and my sister. This was it, without wasting a minute, I straightaway went to my mother and complained of her offensive behavior. And of course, without having second thoughts, Paro was fired from her job. From that day on, we neither heard of her nor saw her. Paro was gone not just from our lives but also from the entire neighborhood, apparently she stopped working in any of the households in our vicinity.
Around an year and a half later, when I had just returned from my college and was munching on my staple cucumber and tomato sandwich, I heard a familiar loud thud on our Iron entrance gate. When I went to check, I found a bunch of unkempt young boys in front of the gate laughing hysterically at something. When I tried to peek, I caught a glimpse of a short old woman holding a twig in her hand, trying to shoo away the boys. Confirming to my suspicion when she looked around, I found it was none other than Paro's mother. I quickly ran downstairs and opened the gate to let her in. The moment she saw me, she busted out a few breathless sentences in Bangla which of course I couldn't understand, so I took her to my grandfather who could translate her language to me. He said, that out of most of the meaningless blabbering which she was doing, she mentioned about Paro being forced to marry a drummer. All I could hear her say was "Sahayya Karuna" which apparently meant, "Please help"!
Me and my mother rushed to her house and found Paro sitting and crying in a corner of her hut, her long fizzy hair untied this time looked as if a storm had just passed through her. Nevertheless very unlike herself, this time Paro was wearing a clean and a crisp green cotton sari with red border. The moment she saw my mother, she rushed and wrapped her arms around her shoulder and started crying inconsolably. While in the middle of all this, I was guilty of overlooking her grief for a moment, and noticing that for the first time she looked uncluttered, as if she has taken bath after years, that too from a citrus fragrant soap the strong lemon scent which entered my nostrils when she passed through me to reach my mother.
Apparently there was this young drummer who was trying to woo Paro for a while now, but she thought it to be some kind of a trap laid by the same neighbors who had convinced Noori's parents to get her married to an old man and had a bad reputation of being pimps. My mother on the other hand, decided to meet "Keshav" or "Keshob" as that's how Paro's neighbors used to call him. He resided at the end of their neighborhood towards the street and owned a small shop close to it. He earned his livelihood by selling and playing drums in weddings or religious ceremonies. After speaking to Keshav for sometime, my mother invited him to our house the next day.
Keshav appeared in front of my parents in a grey trouser and a light yellow shirt, he had the same brittle teeth as that of Paro's which I noticed when he grinned while greeting my parents. My mother had convinced my father to have a word with him and make him understand that Paro does not want to marry him. But to my surprise, Keshav left convincing my parents that he is the best suitable match for Paro. My exams were approaching and this whole episode of Paro's marriage was so emotionally exhausting that I decided to retreat to a corner of the house where Paro is not being discussed.
I had to leave for my summer training project for two months, thus I barely took any interest in Paro's marriage. Only after returning, I got the news of her gotten off married to Keshav and that they now lived in Hyderabad, with Keshav's parents. Paro's mother however still lived in the same hut, I would often spot her collecting garbage in our vicinity, and she would still be teased by the boys whom she would chase away with a twig in her hand, I pitied her and thought that she's left alone all by herself with no one to take care of her. But to my pleasant surprise, Paro returned after a few months along with Keshav, she also paid us a visit, and we were relieved, to see her happy. It seems, Keshav had turned out to be a good husband and was taking good care of her, also that she was two months pregnant. She had decided to take her mother along this time. Withing a few days, Paro left with her mother and it looked like, this time forever.
Years passed by with her memories slowly fading away. I often used to imagine her sitting in front of a stove with a baby on her lap, cooking meals for her husband and for the rest of the family, much crankier and paler than before. Presumably, having a couple of older kids playing around in a small hut, as the life for the "Les Miserable" barely changes.
I finished my Degree and was about to take up my first job in a few days when, out of nowhere Paro gave us a surprise visit. To my astonishment, she looked much more beautiful and orderly than I could ever imagine. She was wearing a red sari, and was decked up with green bangles, gold earrings and a big round bindi on her forehead made her look even more radiant. "Bhabhiji" she said, while peeking through our gallery into the veranda, the memory of her first visit immediately flashed in front of my eyes. "Paro"! exclaimed my mother, "Kaisi ho" (How are you?), "Come and sit" as she pointed out towards a chair. Paro was holding a little baby boy in her left arm, while a two year old little girl held her right hand. The girl was named Sara, while the boy was Hussain, Keshav had travelled with them too but had stopped over to catch up with some of his old friends.
Paro, described how happy she was and how her life changed for the better after marriage. She learned sewing and stitching and is now employed as a ladies' tailor, her mother though much older now, still lives with them, her husband has been supportive of her decisions and she is planning to send her daughter to the school next year. We were extremely delighted on hearing all this from her, my mother offered her a brand new sari with some money in a white envelop for her children. While she was leaving, something caught her attention and her eyes brightened with an unspoken joy, she pointed out towards the same mansion of our neighbor and said,"not as big as this, but we now have our own house made with bricks and have real walls, we don't live in a hut anymore".