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by Irene Buckler

 

As high tea is prepared for the new Memsahib and her guests, Padma is on the kitchen floor, poking into corners – but not for long. Her mother has other ideas.

“Get up!” she demands, hands-on-hips. “Or you will be too dirty to help.”

That would suit Padma just fine because she has seen past the beautiful Memsahib’s soft lace and pretty manners to the cold blue eyes that gleam when she lifts her dainty hands to pinch and slap at servants who fail to please her. With fresh bruises to prove it, Padma doesn’t want to go anywhere near her. Her expression is sullen, but she will do as she is told.

“And smile!” Padma’s mother insists, pushing the tea trolley in her direction.

With a conga line of plate-carrying servants preceding her, Padma and her trolley bring up the rear. She pauses momentarily to lift the lid of the steaming teapot, before approaching the lavishly appointed table where the hostess pontificates on the hardship of colonial life.

“One cannot bear the insufferable heat,” she complains loudly as the nervous servant operating the punkah redoubles his efforts.

Memsahib and her guests nibble on their cake and sip their tea, a brew they find distinctive and very much to their liking. The mood is jolly. Even Padma is happy, but that is because she added a sprinkling of mouse droppings to the teapot.

 

Note: A punkah is a fan used especially in India, made of a palm frond for a strip of cloth hung from the ceiling and moved by a servant. 

 

published 24 September 2016