Covid-19 snatched away author LATA GWALANI’S house help, Sunanda ‘Pinky’ Pawar. Lata pays tribute to Pinky, whom she describes as ‘my beating heart outside my body’

My Pinky returned to dust last night. Alone. Family watching from afar. Am I family? The ID-card that my residential complex issued to her says ‘Maid’. How can I even begin to explain what we meant to each other?

She came to me as a 24-year-old young, single mother. By a quirk of fate, her son and my son share the same name. Recently, when she left this world she was 42 years old, strong, and a fighter.

It feels weird to speak of her in the past tense, when my eyes keep darting to the door hoping she steps in with her customary sing-song, “Good morning,” a phrase she was at first so shy to utter, but still wanted to since our family greeted each other thus. “Mujhe sikhao, Bhabhi,” she had implored. Quick learner that she was, she not only mastered it, but enhanced it with her lilting voice.

Sunanda ‘Pinky’ Pawar

Pinky, officially Sunanda Pawar, was a living example of grit and determination, with her frequent meltdowns. A single mother to a deaf and mute son, she groomed him well and provided for his nutrition uncompromisingly. Today, he is a robust young lad earning a decent salary. She prepared him for life ahead.

But, she didn’t do that for me. She has left me bereft. We were willing punching bags for each other. She came in like a gentle breeze, snuck her saree pallu into her waist, and took charge of my world.

Aap bindaas jao, Bhabhi, mein hoon na,” she would say as I fretted about leaving on work tours. She took care of my Sagar as her own Sagar. She blended in with family seamlessly. Messages of condolence are pouring in from distant corners of the world where the kids of the extended family are now settled.

She knew each of them like her own, cooked for them whatever they wanted, without a whimper. Her smiling face is the only image that comes to mind.

She loved to dress up. Her jingling bangles, her tinkling anklets, the layered chains around her neck, and the danglers in her ears ― she was a happy soul who believed in living life to the fullest.

We had made a plan that she would take me to her village for a fortnight for me to experience the charm and magic of rustic living. We were eagerly looking forward to that. Then Corona came and pushed the plan to the back burner.

Last Diwali, we were not home. Pinky arrived early in the morning armed with boxes of colours and lamps and decorated the lobby outside the house with a brilliant rangoli, only because she knew I did so every year, and she didn’t want the home to miss it this year. She insisted on getting a photo clicked and sent to me.

She was my beating heart outside my body. She was my post-it, my whiteboard, my reminder alarm, she was my God. She carried my emotional baggage on her able shoulders disregarding the excess weight of her own bag.

She had a sense of humour that got us into splits in the midst of worrisome discussions. She was a part of every nuance of my life. Please get one copy of your book translated in Marathi for me, she would plead, lovingly caressing the cover of my book.

“What are you doing in the kitchen? Go and write,” she ordered every other day. Pinky knew the story of my book, Prisoners of Secrets, before the world knew it. While mopping the floor one day, she sat on her haunches just below my writing desk.

Author Lata Gwalani

“Bhabhi, what if you make the ending like this…?” and she went on to narrate her version.

Early April this year, she turned up with a burning fever. I sent her for a Covid test right away. It was negative. The horrendous false negative. Life cheated us. A week later when the fever returned, I sent her again for the test. She called me, to say “Bhabhi, positive aaya hai.

Three days later, when she was still at home and no Thane Municipal Corporation (TMC) official had visited her to start her treatment, I urged her to get into hospital. Fortunately, she got a bed at Thane’s most efficient Global hospital. She went into the ICU on April 14.

She remained there until May 28. She was in the ICU for 44 days, in which time only once could she manage to get on a video call with her son. But, the emotional trauma of that episode was so much that she had convulsions that night. After that, she only enquired about him during her daily calls to her younger sister with whom her son had moved in.

Pinky spoke to me twice during these days. Her voice was barely audible from behind the mask. “Bhabhi, nothing will happen to me, na? I will come out soon na?”

For my Sagar, it has not yet sunk in. For my husband Sunil, it is a blow. “Pinky, chai banao, please,” he would request her. “Thoda shakkar daloon?” she would ask in a whisper, knowing I avoided adding sugar in his tea. He would nod gleefully.

Family and dear ones console me saying she’s gone to a better place. I have no doubt about that. Even if the place is not a better one, Pinky will take no time to make it a better place.

(Featured Image: Sunanda ‘Pinky’ Pawar (left) with author Lata Gwalani)

Lata Gwalani is the author of ‘Incognito’ and ‘Prisoners of Secrets’. She is a narrator of human experiences. What are we if not for our stories? asks Lata. Getting to know each other’s stories is what ‘Kathaasis’ ― her storytelling platform ― is all about.