It’s an unusual topic I have chosen. But, nonetheless, I am sure, many would agree with it, because without maids, this world is simply unimaginable.
I have grown with maids and servants in my house. I am not bragging, just stating the obvious to build up the story. These maids and servants are still working at my mother’s house, it’s been more than 30 years. I have great respect for them. But then, it was a different story. I, often, saw my mom sharing her life’s incidents with them, doling out advice (which sometimes they would practise, and sometimes just let it pass) and gossiping about the neighbours. I found it all strange. Why did my mom share these things with our domestic help? They weren’t her friends (and she had plenty), then why the need to offload her thoughts and advice before them? Don’t think, I hadn’t raised these questions before my mothers, but she could never give me a satisfactory reply. Anyway, that was then, and this is now.
Now, I am married and the mistress of my own house. I have engaged the services of a few maids for odd chores. They have been working for me for years and in our building complex even before me. When I came to Mumbai, immediately after my wedding, I was quite new to Mumbai and the life of Mumbai buildings. There was this maid who was already working for my husband, and she continued after I came into his life, and his apartment. Now, I had heard weird things about Mumbai maids; that they steal and can be very demanding. When I raised this issue with my husband, he just laughed it off. But, he soon realized I was not joking. Then, in a serious tone, he said, ‘It’s very easy to test someone’s integrity. Keep a few notes of money (of small denomination. But, count them first.) outside, where the maid can see. After a couple of days, check if anything has been stolen. If your wad of notes is intact, then you can trust the maid.”
I liked this suggestion and I tried it on the maid. Well, needless to say, she passed the litmus test. And many others after her. Till date, touch wood, I have not yet engaged a maid who has stolen anything from my house. Anyway, I guess I am waylaid; this is not what I had intended to talk.
So coming back to the topic, we are a nuclear family. My husband’s at work and my daughter’s at school. And even if she is at home, it’s so much you can talk to a 4-year old. You need adult company. And that’s where the maids come into the picture. The maids with their fragrant gajras, red vermillion, pallu tucked sarees, bright smiles, sometimes tears and dreadful tales are very important in my house, not only for the load of work they do, but also the human connection they provide me when I am all alone in the house.
You wouldn’t believe me, during my early pregnancy, when I was bedridden with terrible morning sickness, these maids and their funny or sorry anecdotes were the only connection (apart from my husband, of course) I had with the outside world. Before you start pitying me, let me tell you, I have friends, and I talk to and meet with them often. But, it’s only my maids whom I see everyday. Naturally, we have formed a bond. We share things from our respective lives, exchange recipes, discuss the events happening in the world around us (yes, they are quite well-informed and up to date with the current news, though they have never entered a school premise in their life) and yes, we gossip too.
Like me, they are also alone in Mumbai having left their families hundreds of miles away. I advise them about their children and their husband, though sometimes I feel I am talking to deaf ears when it comes to implementation. I dole out the advice, none the same. And I must admit, I have learnt quite a few things from them over the years.
There are times when we fight (yes, we do fight, after all, we are humans and humans fight); the times when they come late, don’t turn up without informing or do shoddy work. And there are some harsh words spoken and received in the heat of the moment. We sulk a little, and then soon the moments melt and the episodes forgotten like a thing of the past.
Yes, I tell you, it’s a bittersweet relationship that my maids and I share, a relationship born of need, desperation and loneliness.