To truly comprehend Seema’s world, we suggest you to listen to a few notes of her daily “bhajans” (religious songs devoted to the elephant-headed God Ganesha), close your eyes and imagine the constant heat, humidity and incessant noise of a city that never sleeps, whose density is more than 20,000 inhabitants per square kilometer. Then start your reading. This will momentarily take you to the life of this smiling, honest and brave woman.

Seema goes to work on foot or by bus. On the way, she is greeted by noises, smells, heat, plants in the middle of the footpath, weird objects on the sidewalk, cars and animals emerging from the corner of each street. In Mumbai, it’s a challenge to leave your house! Each step requires a lot of attention and energy. During the monsoons, she sometimes cannot leave home at all – which means she’s earning less money. This is why she’s constantly looking for work close to her neighborhood.

Seema is 30 and is from Alibaug, a small city in Maharashtra. She’s been living in Mumbai for many years and her mother tongue is Marathi. She only knows a few words of English but has taught herself Hindi, which can be useful professionally. She completed formal schooling up to Grade 7, dropping out when she was only thirteen.

She currently works as a housemaid in five different houses per day, six days a week. She does the dishes, dusts (all the way up to the fans), cleans the floors and windows and sometimes also chops veggies and hangs up clothes to dry. While she doesn’t cook, she can also provide child-minding services.

She was married at 17 and has been working ever since she left school. She says her parents were never particularly kind to her. Now they live back at the village, she sees them from time to time and sends them her 11-year-old daughter to care for during the summer school holidays while she keeps working in town.

A passion? Nope! Because she never does anything else than work. She doesn’t have any friends, no hobbies, no time to read or to do anything other than the necessary – which is taking care of her daughter as she comes home from school, helping her with her homework, cleaning and cooking, going to fill buckets of waters in the evening for the next day and going to sleep, never before midnight. Often when it rains, mother and daughter aren’t able to sleep properly as the water dropping on the metal roof makes too much noise. Moreover, her house doesn’t have a fridge or AC, so temperatures are quite often extreme.

A habit? In the morning she wakes up at six o’clock and starts her day with a prayer to Lord Ganesha. On Sunday she can usually rest, take a walk by the seaside, see her family and practice her religion.

Seema doesn’t have any fears nor failures. Her main regret is to have ever believed her husband was a good man, which he was not. She says that once married, he always mistreated her. They have been separated for a long time but since they are both part of the same community, he’s still very much there, in the wrong sense of the term. Divorce was never an option.

But Seema doesn’t complain. She does everything she can to stay financially independent and never accepts charity. She’s strong but the more she tells her story, the more tears sting her eyes. She says her life was ruined but she’s doing everything in her power so her daughter’s life will be different.

Her success is to have work and that her daughter is educated. Her dream is to keep her daughter in school, that everything will be fine for her and that she will keep a roof over their heads. She even hopes one day she will have a house that she can pass on her daughter.

*Name changed.

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