A Time of Waiting

Clare West

A Place to Stay

The great cities of India are crowded with people. Many of them are poor; they work long hours and earn just enough to buy some food to eat, and to rent a room to sleep in. Life is hard for them.

And life is even harder if, like Lakshmi and her husband Ramu, you live in a shanty town, where any day your house can be pulled down and you are suddenly homeless...


'Is Sharada in? We've come for the room,' Lakshmi said, bright and businesslike, to the young girl at the door.

'Sit. I'll call mother.' The girl walked towards a door off the courtyard, bending backwards to support her swollen belly.

As Lakshmi squatted on the dirty stone floor of the courtyard, she looked around with distaste. In a corner there was a rusty tap, with a pile of unwashed bowls under it; uneaten rice and vegetables, swollen and going bad, floating on a pool of dark, oily water.

Her husband Ramu dropped down on to the floor near her, holding a red hand-towel against his hot, wet forehead.

The lines of tiredness on his face made Lakshmi feel guilty. He had been pulling heavy women around town on his rickshaw all day. Instead of greeting him with tea at their home in the shanty town, she had gone to meet him after work and made him come here.

'Have they decided? Will it be pulled down?' he asked.

'In a fortnight,' she whispered. 'Someone from the apartments went to the lawyers. Called our shanty town a danger to people's health. The lady I work for at number 206 told me.'

'Why?' he whispered back angrily. 'The people who live in the apartments - most of their servants are from our shanties. And the vegetable sellers. And car cleaning boys.'

Lakshmi had been trying to answer this question since this morning, while washing dirty plates and bowls in the six apartments where she worked.

'Enough poor people nearby, in Trilokpuri, who can work for them instead,' she said.

'You know Sharada well?'

'A bit. Met her while I was buying food. Someone mentioned today that her room is available.'

'With a room here, we can continue the work we've got. Your apartments. My rickshaw. But if we have to move miles away...' he whispered.