Saturday, April 15, 2017

M is for Maid of Honour #atozchallenge


This post is not about weddings or female friendship. No, sir. It's all about the queen of an Indian household...the kaam waali bai aka the house maid.
Courtesy: Google images

The poster says it all. 

The calmness index of a typical Indian household is directly proportionate to the maid/help/helper's ability to be 
a) present and available, and
b) to turn up on time for her duties.

I've lived away from India for almost twenty years now. So when I go back, I see and notice things that don't make sense to me. But it's the way things run in almost all the houses I call 'home' when I visit.

Ding dong. 
The first bell rings at 5 am. The man ringing the bell wants to wash you car. You nudge your husband, he nudges you back. You have no energy to nudge back so you drag your mostly asleep body out of your room and fumble with the latch on the main door, open the door, hand the car keys to the car wash guy and come back and put your head back on the pillow.

Ding dong.
Almost like a robot who's been programmed to do just this, you drag your sleep-walking body back to the main door, open it and look up at the car wash man like a clueless idiot. But before you turn to grab the keys you've already given, he announces that the water pressure is too low and maybe someone needs to check the water tank level.

Sleep has scooted so quickly from your eyes, you spring up like a spring and say, "What? No water?"

The poor car wash guy looks at you, shuffles his chappals and takes his phone out from his pocket. He knows he'll be there for a while. He's seen this scene played out a few times. He knows the drill.

You stomp back to the bedroom, screech the living daylights and sleep out of your husband, plant your hands on your hips and put your scrunched up face close to his sleepy one and hiss, "You didn't run the motor last night, did you? One little flick of a button! Why do I put up with this?"

You think the hissing is contained within the confines of your room but you're wrong.

The car wash guy can hear every syllable standing at the main door, waiting for water. He's half listening to you and half to the whatsap video on his phone.

"Is the maid on holiday?" asks the milk delivery guy when he sees the car wash guy languishing at the door.

"Hmmm." nods the car wash guy without looking up.

They can both feel the rising temperature emanating from within the house.

The milk delivery guy decides not to ring the bell and calls out instead, "Bibijee...dhoodh." (Ma'am... milk)

Your husband leaps off the bed, runs to the door and shakes the milk delivery guy's hand before taking the four plastic pouches of Amul milk from him.

The three men at the door share a moment of camaraderie, a moment of understanding, a brief moment of feeling the pain -- the pain of living in a house without a maid.

The bell will ding and dong the rest of the day--for the vegetable guy, the dhobi, salespeople selling anything from underwear to tricks to attain nirvana, the AC repair guys, the alms seekers dressed as designated deity for the day: Hanuman on Tuesday, Shani on Saturday etc. etc.

"Why does she need to go back to her village...we're her family, aren't we? You ask your friends when you see them at a coffee morning which has been organised by a friend in a hurry, just so you can vent and rant and not do what you had threatened to on the phone when she'd called an hour ago.

"I'll kill myself Manju. I can't take this. How am I supposed to live like this? Without a maid? This is no life...I'd rather be dead...."

Manju had panicked a bit. She had expected you to break down in a day or two, not the first day of this difficult period of "maid's-gone-on-leave". She called a few friends. ALL of them were there to offer support. ALL. 

The one thing that unites middle class Indian housewives/or working wives is their collective and heartfelt understanding of life without a maid.

"5, yes...5 am." you  hold back sobs that're stuck in your throat as you explain the way this first day without your maid has unfolded so far. 

Your friends nod and squeeze your hand in support. Some can feel the slight shiver run down their spines when your tale awakens memories of their 'maid's-on-leave' days.
None of the above is fiction. Believe me. Living in London taught me how to manage my day without a maid. I'm utterly grateful for that. So, when we moved to Doha, I decided to keep our home maid free. I do get a cleaner in, once a week, to help me out. But I'm glad we manage to keep calm without the Bai (a house maid) even if our floors are not spotless and our meals are simple affairs.

Each to their own. I do understand the need for help and there are households where the symbiosis of the helper and the helped is a joy to watch. Also, housework offers a great employment opportunity. A friend once needed a little extra cash around Christmas. I was training to become a teacher, working full time and my children were 7 and 4. We struck a deal. It was perfect. I'd come home to an immaculate house and beds made with fresh linen on Fridays and feel like I'd entered heaven. I'm all for getting help to make life easy. We only live once!

It's the reliance on another person to fix your own life that I have trouble digesting.

What's your take on getting help? Is it affordable or expensive in your part of the world?

Leaving you with pictures of meadows (called bhugiyals) in the Himalayas. Calm. Serene. Peaceful.

Sunday awaits, when the writing will rest, but the reading will go on.
'N will see you on Monday :)


  1. So true, Arti. My once-a-week cleaning guy didn't turn up yesterday and we did manage clean up without him. But it would be a different scenario back home. Life revolves around the schedule of the maid in India. A major reason behind this heart attack that the absence of a maid gives is the utter lack of support from other members of the family in most cases. It becomes the sole responsibility of the lady of the house. Hope the situation improves soon.

    1. Life does revolve around the schedule of the bai:) So true and so frustrating when one goes for a visit and all the planning is done around 'her' time of arrival/departure!
      Ladies need to be more vocal about asking others in the house to help. Telepathy doesn't work in these cases:)

  2. Good post and peaceful photos.

    I don't know what I would do with a maid. I would clean house before she got here. I would make sure she had tea and a scone when she arrived. It would wear me out making sure she was comfortable.

    When she is gone, I would probably get arrested and go to prison for shooting anyone who came to rang my bell at 5 a.m. to wash my car!

    1. Thank you Toni.
      You sound like husband laughs when he sees me cleaning before the cleaner comes in. And when she's there, I tidy up and dust while she tackles the bathrooms and the windows! We live in the gulf and the one thing we get in spades here is dust and sand.

      The bell ringing is a source of constant annoyance to the uninitiated in India.
      To be honest, only one car cleaner used to start his day at 5 as he had a full time job to go to by 8. Most people would get awakened by 6 or 7 by their help:)

      Thank you for your comments. I do appreciate the time it takes to read posts and then write.

  3. It's fascinating how things are different in different parts of the world. I'm living in Morocco right now and... yes, we are one of those odd people who don't have a maid at home. In Spain that's completely different!
    Eva - Mail Adventures

    1. So true Eva. The way different cultures interpret how much domestic help is normal fascinates me.

  4. Thank you for a fun and enlightening view into a world that is different from mine. I love learning about other's lives.

    Affirmations for a Good Life

    1. Thank you for stopping by and I do too Beth:)

  5. Interesting insights into a culture of which I only know a little. Thanks.

    1. You're welcome and happy to see you here.

  6. I think people in India are spoilt because they have help for all areas- the home,the isthri,the car etc etc . But I think in a short while we will have to get used to being our own bais! My maid has four kids and they all are educated- so bye bye to bais pretty soon.
    Which is a good thing too .
    Loved your piece as always Arti - and like I've said,asked,requested before : when or when are you going to write a book my love ?
    You're SO ready .

    1. And that's the way it should be Sharmila--an educated India and an India of equal opportunities. Why should good education be only for the ones who can pay the fee? Schools and colleges should be for all. Then, if one wants to clean houses to earn and another can afford that person's wages, it's fair. But not if people don't have a choice. Not when they're forced to clean because they have no other alternative, because they didn't go to school.

      As for the book--I'm doing my writing and hopefully the binders will find me:)

  7. You've opened up a little about Indian society that i did not know, thank you. In my part of the world, i am the help. People have me in once a week or once every two weeks to clean their home or office. Most of them do it because they are too old or too busy to do it themselves, and they would rather pay me a bit and have it done than come home and face it themselves.

    1. Thank you for visiting Messymimi:) I so like the way this sounds...messymimi:)

  8. If I could afford a cleaning lady, I'd have one in a New York minute. (I've actually been the cleaning person when I needed money, too.) But it's not financially feasible for me and it's not a need, just a dream - ah, to never have to dust or vacuum again...

    It's a sticky question, tho', isn't it? Because it's not so much the fact of having help, it's all the underlying connotations of wealth and privilege that get tied into it. Not always comfortable thoughts to grapple with...

    So rather than make myself uncomfortable, I'm just going to go stare at your pretty pictures some more.

    1. Stare away...the best compliment a photographer can hope for. And thank you for the ego boost.

      In India, traditions, economics and availability of abundant labour means that getting help is not considered a privilege. It's a way of life.

      Only when we moved to the UK, I realised that it's not the norm for a person to come and clean your house for you:)

  9. I've never had a maid or a cleaning lady, but I have friends who swear by them. Our house is a trifle chaotic as we are artistic types and have projects spread all over. I suspect that any self-respecting maid would have a heart attack at trying to keep up with us.

    Your photographs are beautiful!

    Sharon E. Cathcart
    Award-winning Author of Fiction Featuring Atypical Characters

    1. Thank you for visiting and for sharing Sharon:)
      Just spotted a couple of errors (spellings and punctuation) in this post and then I read your tag line--award winning author!
      I want to hide. But, I shall keep my head up, fix the errors and visit you:)

  10. Beautiful photos. Thanks for sharing your insights on the helper-helped relationship :-) Happy A-to-Z-ing.

  11. I would kind of like to live in a country that does milk delivery... Also, have enough money to afford a maid :D

    The Multicolored Diary: WTF - Weird Things in Folktales

    1. I can see why you'd feel this way:)
      It's the incessant door bell that can tip one over the edge. All those who come to help ring the door bell.

  12. Honestly I have tasted the pleasures of maids in India and couple of years in Africa but now being in Canada we are in a lifestyle that I don't miss them anymore or rather we are saved from their tantrums. Loved your post as you described the situation ditto as they actually take place. Catching up with all that I missed. Keep going!

    1. Thanks for visiting Pinkz. Yes, I know what you mean.
      Also, I guess, it's the cultural and socio-economic fabric of a society/country that decides if help is classified as a necessity or a luxury.

  13. I was going through my blog trying to find my first poems and I found your comment on something in 2017, when I had no idea I liked to write and i was doing it like a summer project.

    This post makes me wonder on oir recent lockdown situation. We know we suffered because depend on our maids so much, we prepare elaborate meals 4 times a day, we own too many things and ofcourse we have 2 ruffians in the house!

    1. Hey Namratha. Thank you for writing this comment. I ended up reading this post again and OMG! there are a few bloopers for sure--grammar mistakes!!
      That's why I like the A to Z so much--one doesn't dwell too much on getting a piece perfect--someone like me, I mean. But, thanks to your knock on this post's door--I shall edit a bit for sure.
      Yes, maidless in India is not an easy state to be.
      Also, I'm curious to know which post of yours did I leave the comment on in 2017? And here I was thinking about you just this morning, on my morning walk--thinking that I've found so many new gems through this year's A to Z--yes, you:)
      Have a blessed day.
      Hugs. xx


I would love to hear from you. Please leave your thoughts and comments here.