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.
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.
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 thing...one job...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 :)