Today’s deleted vignette shows the Singer household’s head bearer (rather like a butler) in his element. The family has just buried another little son, little Francis, and only Flora is left in the nursery.
Nisha is the daughter of Flora’s ayah, and her girlhood playmate. She had been working as little Francis’ ayah until his death.
Anjali is a maid character who has now disappeared from the pages of the story. As have the other servants mentioned in the following passage.
The British had so many servants – around 20 to 30 per household – however, trying to reflect the reality of life in British Calcutta introduces characters which distract from the story!
Anjali led Nisha into the drawing room where Rashid was replacing books into their right positions on the shelves that lined one wall of the room. The room was the largest in the house, off which all the other rooms opened. Its ceilings were twice as high as the sweeper could reach with the brush, and the space above their heads was criss-crossed with pulleys and ropes which manoeuvred the two large punkahs. Rashid had this room cleaned out properly only once a week, owing to the many prints on the walls and china and glass on the tables; unless there had been a dust storm. He sighed. There had been three dust storms already that March.
Near every chair or divan he found a magazine carelessly folded or book opened face down. He could never understand why the memsahib needed to move from one seat to the next. Not that he worried over such aimlessness, but rather, it meant he was forever straightening the furniture.
He was halfway up a ladder, when Anjali spoke to him. He paused and located the place along the shelf where the leather book in his hand would rest until pulled out again and casually abandoned. He stepped down the three rungs and faced the two girls awaiting his attention.
“What do you want with Nisha today, Rashid-bhai?”
What do I want with Nisha? Now that the youngest child of the memsahib had been taken, the girl had no proper place in his household. Rashid thought for a few moments. There were few tasks appropriate for a girl to do. But she was a believer in Allah. That Faruque claimed he was also a follower, and thought it unclean to wash the family’s plates. Rashid frowned. He doesn’t think it against his religion to serve the memsahib her gin and wine.
“Nisha can help Zoze-bhai in the cookhouse,” he informed the girls waiting on his response. He registered the confusion in the younger girl’s expression. “She will wash the plates after the family’s meals.”
Nisha nodded. “Thank you, Rashid-bhai.”
“And you can also make the chhota hazri for both the memsahib and Miss Flora.” Rashid hoped she wouldn’t burn the memsahib’s toast.
The girls waited a moment but Rashid had no further instruction for them and waved them away. Having straightened out the situation of Nisha, he turned back to his task. Books had been replaced in their positions on the shelves. Chairs had been returned to their stations, facing off with each other across the round wooden tables. He had removed the vases to the verandah, to be refreshed when the mali came with the cut flowers. The room was now ready for Mallick to come in and dust the punkahs and sweep the floors.
Rashid wound up the clock. It was after seven o’clock, and the memsahib would likely not be up for another three hours. He could leave her sitting room until after he had attended to the children’s nursery. He corrected himself. Miss Flora’s nursery.