Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The Milkmaid

A couple of weeks ago, I'd taken a few photographs of some packets of milk by the side of the road, lying in a bag, in crates, stacked one on top of another. After taking the photos, I asked the vendor, who happened to be a woman if I could take one of hers as well, to which her response was a quick and bashful "अम्मा नक्को!" I smiled, and didn't say a word. The woman was kind enough to have allowed me to take the pictures in the first place, as I'd approached a restaurant the day before and asked them if I could take a photograph of all the delicious dishes that were displayed in their serving area, so that I could post it on the web and show it to my American friends (and maybe when they visit here sometime, they'd like to come to their establishment and try them out), to which the reply I'd gotten was: I'm sorry, but it's against our policy to allow people to take photographs of the food we serve.

Figures. It's always the rich who have hangups like this; the poor almost never have such kinds of qualms. They're quite open-minded and are glad to oblige in any way they can. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that they've lived a life of perpetual hardship and have learnt how to make compromises along the way. Whereas the rich are as intractable as ever, maybe even more so with every passing year.

So, anyway, a few days after I'd taken the photographs, and mentioned to the lady that I'd already posted it up on the web, and that her milk was now world famous, she kind of hesitatingly asked me--do you think I could get a copy of those photographs to keep for myself? I didn't know what to say, so I said sure. I mean, I'd barely just learnt how to operate the digital camera that my sister had gotten for me, and was still a novice at uploading pictures to my flickr account, so this would definitely pose a problem which I wasn't too sure I'd be able to tackle. A few more days passed, and every day I went to buy milk from the milk-woman, she kind of gave me that look: so, are you going to give me those pictures today, and I would wear my "I'm sorry, but I don't have them today either" expression, which is how it went for the next couple of days, until I stopped going to her completely out of guilt. I would've given her the photographs if I'd only known how to get them developed, but I hadn't a clue, and I didn't want to tell her that and make it sound as if I was trying to stiff her. Nor did I want to give her printouts of the photographs, which would've been easily available at the shops outside my house, as I wanted to give her something a bit more substantial than that.

So I waited, and waited, and waited, for the right opportunity to present itself, and it finally came in the guise of my sister going to one of her friends' place to complete her Project Work, as she needed to download some of her photographs from the net. I saw my chance, and asked her to get mine developed as well. She said sure, and left.

A day passed, and then another, and then another, and then, finally, as I was about to give up hope for the time being, my sister decided to go back to her friend's house to finish the Project Work, and I reminded her to get the photographs. She said she would. Later, that evening, as I was picking her up, I asked her if she'd gotten them, and she handed them to me. I was ecstatic. I couldn't wait to give them to the milkmaid the next morning. She usually gets up at around 4 AM, to relieve her husband, who's been awake since 12 o'clock, waiting for the milk van to deliver the milk. Once everything's unloaded, he sits with it on the sidewalk, making sure it's safe, and then by the time it's 6, everyone starts to come out of their houses to buy their daily quota of lactose. That's when I usually go as well, and today I was more than happy to make the morning trek towards her. She looked as happy as ever, and gave me a smile when she saw me; it'd been a long time since we'd seen each other. I said hello and greeted her husband as well, and then proceeded to give the envelope which contained the photographs to him, just in case he'd mind if I were to have offered them to his wife first, without his permission (you can never be too careful). He looked at them for a second and didn't know quite what to think, at which point his wife came over and saw the photos and told him that those were his crates that he was staring at. He smiled, as did his wife, and I told them both that I was sorry it took such a long while, and then made up a silly excuse/lie that the guy who I'd given the photographs to have it developed had closed his shop for a couple of days (!). They didn't seem to care. I went ahead as usual and purchased my milk, and as I was leaving I put the photos back in the envelope, and the envelope in the plastic bag that I'd gotten (it had rained the night before) and kept it on top of one of her bags, and told her that I was leaving it there. I don't think she understood, because as I was leaving she called out to me and said that I was forgetting the photographs, to which her husband and I both replied in unison: they're for you!

She grinned.

1 comment:

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