Her client was pulling up his trousers when Eunuch Kishan called her from just outside the door.
“Maithili, oh, you Maithili!” The eunuch’s voice sounded uncharacteristically frantic. He was a formidable creature. Kishan was the watchdog of the brothel, protector of the harlots, and the bringer of both good and bad tidings. His voice usually resounded menacingly in the musty corridors of the brothel. Now it sounded subdued, musty.
Maithili opened the door and showed the client out while looking askance at Kishan.
“Your father is gone,” he said without any ado.
“Gone?” Maithili repeated the word as she took in the news.
Kishan explained to her briefly that her father was lynched by a mob that called themselves gau rakshaks.
Gau rakshak was a new addition to the country’s lingo. Maithili remembered as she changed her dress to go to her house in the village where her people would be waiting for the money she would bring for burying her dead father. Her people in the village whom the country called by various names like Dalits, untouchables, and filthy dogs, believed that she was employed in the city and was earning a good income. After all, she used to send home a fairly good amount every month. They bought rice and daal, atta and potatoes with the money she sent. They didn’t know that she was selling herself to men who were adding new words to the country’s lingo.
Her father was bringing a cow home from the market. She had sent home a bigger amount this time. The amount became bigger as the number of men who added new words to the country’s lingo increased. It was the price they paid to Maithili for absorbing a fraction of the venom in their veins. They questioned father about the cow. He told them that the cow would soon give birth to a calf and he wished to sell milk since his caste profession of skinning dead cows now became illegal in the country of gau rakshaks.
The gau rakshaks were scandalised. How can a “filthy chamar” change his profession from tanning to milk-selling? Such change of traditional professions is antinational. Nationalism boiled in gau rakshak veins. Maithili was not there to suck the frothing venom in the swelling veins.
The people made way for Maithili to walk in. Respectfully. Maithili knew that respectability was an ally of the wallet. With an eye trained particularly by Eunuch Kishan, Maithili could see even the gau rakshaks looking at her from their distance with due respect. She wished she could spit at them. On their faces.