Recently one of my facebook friends, posted a joke as under…..” I remembered that it was my colleague’s wedding day. I called up to wish him. The phone was picked up by the maid servant in the house. She told “ donom baahar gaye hai. Unka marriage unnecessary hai”. The joke was “liked” by many . May be some people kept quiet because there is no provision to “dislike“ on facebook. But one remark which provoked me was “perhaps , being a house maid , this lady may be privy to certain insider info that others may not know”. Whether you like it or not, maid servant plays an important role in Indian life.
My wife brings up the topic of maid servants generally in any informal meeting among friends and neighbors. Having lived in various places within the country and known problems faced by the maids who served us, I have found so many common features among them.
Most of them resort to do the work of a house help out of dire need. The poverty in their families, the indifference and drunkenness of their men etc are the prime reasons which compel them to work as a house maid in one or more houses to feed and bring up their children. Almost all of them belong to the very low strata of the society. Most of them face the atrocities of misogyny in their families. Over the years, the work handled by them in our households has undergone lots of changes. During my younger days, their area of operation was strictly outside the kitchen. They did help my mother in fetching water for the bathroom heating it in big cauldrons, cut firewood into pieces, help in pounding rice, clean up the grinding stones etc. Even with all the kitchen aids like gas stoves, mixies, washing machines, dishwashers, the dependence on the maids has not depleted in today’s Indian families. Their area of operation has been widened. The remuneration also has gone up multi fold in line with the demand/supply theory. The maids also choose their houses according to the availability of conveniences such as air conditioning, TV viewing facility and even the speed of the WiFi connectivity in metros……..!
They are very good at narrating their miseries and winning our sympathy to get interest free salary advance of at least ten to twelve months or even more.They also ensure that the advance amount remains more or less constant all the time to safeguard against pink slips.
Another redeeming feature is that they are very much in the know of happenings in their area of operation. The discreet information generally gets passed on to their considerate memsahebs. Most of the ladies at home like to get the “breaking news “ from them. And the women of the house give better performance ratings based on such ancillary activities. Many a times their lack of diligence in washing the shirts or pants observed by the husband is vetoed by the wife because of this reason. Their ability to elicit the information of spicy secrets within the households is sometimes superior to that of CBI.
If the servants who work in villages and towns do the household chores taking their own time, the so called “ baayi “ of Mumbai is very punctual and fast. She works for at least a few houses within the flat complex or in the same vicinity. The schedule of work is generally like the call sheet of heroine in a movie. The breakfast /dinner timings of the family members are adjusted to the baayi’s visits……! The cell phone has certainly helped increase the efficiency of these baayis. They are now able to do a better time management.
As they gather experience, these housemaids acquire lots of skills for survival. They are not a meek and submissive lot who can be ruled with an iron hand. The typical Indian family is not able to do away with their services especially when husband and wife are employed. A smart house maid is capable of identifying the areas of weakness of each family member and exploiting them for her benefit. And the reliable and efficient hands are not available freely. They also have their unions/networks.
Another common practice among them is doing petty thefts. Generally, they resort to it only in households where there is a scope to lay hands on. The members of the family also entice them being careless in keeping their valuable belongings. Another reason is the craving for newer things thanks to widespread consumerism.
To conclude, I will narrate the story of one of my senior colleagues in Chennai, Mr. Ramagiri. He lived in Luz, in Mylapore. A very pious gentleman. His wife also worked in the bank. He had two daughters. Before Ramagiri retired, his daughters were married and settled abroad. When he retired, his wife had a few years’ service left. Since he was at home, the servant was allowed to come before noon for her work. As a routine, the couple took breakfast together before madam left for office. Then it was time for my friend to take the Hindu paper for second, thorough reading sitting in the balcony. That day while reading the paper, he heard a sound in the bed room. He went inside to verify whether his wife still at home. As he entered, the six foot four inches tall Godrej cupboard was open. He could see the foot below the door with silvery anklets similar to his wife’s. He planned to scare her and rushed towards her from behind. To his surprise, it was the servant maid with the gold chain of his wife in her hands………….! The servant maid too was shocked as Ramagiri never used to get up from his seat without finishing reading till the last page of his favorite newspaper. He could not help calling his wife’s name in panic. She immediately dropped the chain within the cupboard and closed the door in a hurry. As he was about to raise his voice to shout at her, she astounded him with the following words in vernacular…..” if you make any retaliatory action or try to make it known outside, I will go to the police to complain against you for making advances towards me “ . As she had hurriedly closed the door of the cupboard, a few of her glass bangles had hit the sides and there was a bruise with blood stains. Had he held her hands, he could have been caught “ red handed “. Ramagiri’s long experience in dealing with militant union leaders throwing unreasonable challenges and demands stood by him in regaining his composure. He made a demand that she should leave the job forthwith. She even refused to do so, as an abrupt discharge from duties would bring down “ her ratings “ in the locality. Ultimately she agreed to leave after Diwali which was hardly two weeks away. The job poachings in their sector take place generally during the post Diwali days after availing the “Diwali benefits”. She reverted to her earlier morning timings from the next day. Ramagiri started reading Hindu after making sure that there was no one at home. Before the “ new recruit “ joined duty, Ramagiri convinced his wife to apply for VRS which got approved instantly. They lived happily thereafter.
The strength of maid ( made ) in India should not be underestimated. She has been able to exploit the idea behind the much acclaimed “ me too “ movement for her de(of)fence much before 2017 . And all of us thought it got initiated by Alyssa Milano against Harvey Weinstein………..!
Tail piece…..Sometime back, when I wrote an incident as a first person narrative, one of my friends came and threatened me of plagiarism because it was his experience. I am confident that none will come with similar claims for the above story. Just in case my real friend reads this, he would thank me for changing the name. If at all anyone among the readers is Ramagiri, kindly pardon me.