If there is
one woman who strikes terror into the hearts of Indian men worldwide, apart from their mother-in-law, it is the maid. These
fabulous domestic servants that grace Indian households are a breed unto their own.
They cook, clean,
wash clothes and utensils, and generally transfer the onus of cleanliness from the lady of the house to their own delicate
shoulders, and all this for a mere token sum of money.
But I realised
only the other day the value they bring into our dreary lives. It was a fine sunny morning, when I woke up and decided I would
tell the cook to prepare cauliflower curry with potatoes. To this end I did a survey of the requisite ingredients and found
to my dismay that I had nearly run out of turmeric powder, as only two teaspoonfuls of the yellow grains lay desolately at
the bottom of the jar.
I removed it
from the shelf and placed it on the kitchen platform, as a reminder that once the cook had exhausted its contents, I would
need to go fetch some more from the grocery store.
At this point,
the cleaning maid turned up. I left her to her devices and toddled off to brush my teeth. Imagine my chagrin when I returned
to the kitchen to find my jar of turmeric neatly emptied and cleaned out.
I took the lady
you clear out the turmeric powder?’
it was empty,’ she said, affecting nonchalance.
do you mean, empty? I was going to make cauliflower curry with it!’
it near the sink so I thought you kept it for cleaning.’
I decided to
abandon this line of questioning, which was proving unfruitful. The lady’s sense of ‘near’ was flawed, as
my precious turmeric jar was sitting blamelessly on the far end of the kitchen platform, as distant from sinks and washing
liquids as possible.
But it is impossible
to remonstrate with the domestic help and bring them to reason. The same cleaning lady, named Hema, washes the utensils with
a clear view to leaving them swathed in chunks of Vim bar soap.
I pointed them
out to her one day, and informed her that if we ate our meals on plates with green acidic detergents around the borders, we
would all fall sick and die. She merely nodded, and flashed her eyes at me in displeasure, probably thinking it wouldn’t
be a bad thing after all, if we met such a dismal fate at her hands.
I wondered if
Hema was really the right name for her and whether her parents should not have considered naming her after a murderous vamp,
Mystery of the Disappearing Glasses
Around the time
I first employed Hema, I had purchased a set of six glasses, together with a sturdy stainless steel stand on which the glasses
could be placed bottom up after washing.
Over the next
couple of months, I couldn’t shake off this bizarre feeling that the number of glasses were reducing. Every so often,
it appeared that the family of glasses were losing one member at a time due to war and tragedy.
Now, the first
thought that occurs when you cannot find something in the house, like a wad of notes or a gold chain is – the maid has
taken it. My mother has gone to the extent of muttering curses under her breath at her maid, believing her to have made off
with a new pair of strappy shoes that she’d bought.
under this misapprehension for several weeks before finally locating the offending shoes in a box under her bed, where she
had kept it for ‘safekeeping.’
A similar suspicion
took hold of my husband, who firmly believed that Hema was stealing our glasses and presumably serving her husband beer in
them every evening. I protested that his doubts about her were unjustified, as Hema, for all her affinity with Vim bar soap,
had proved herself a fairly trustworthy employee. I had left my gold chain lying about the house several times and so far
she had resisted any temptation to pinch it.
And after all,
a glass of cylindrical shape, and not insignificant proportions, would surely be difficult for her to conceal on her person.
Then one day
when the glasses had reduced to a mere family of two, I questioned Hema about it, who admitted to having inadvertently broken
a couple of them while washing. And we were left to ponder whether it wouldn’t have been simply better for her to have
stolen them than broken them.
Cleopatra of Maids
numerous flaws, I must admit that at least I still feel like the lady of the house in front of her, spic and span though her
A stranger who
entered our house would not be hard put to recognize me as the woman who lorded over the manor and her as the domestic help
who scurried to obey my commands. The same could not be said for a previous maid of mine called Yogita, who routinely turned
up in shiny sarees, sandals with bows on them and chunky jewellery.
Her attire and
accessories were all perfectly coordinated to give the impression that she had come to do the cleaning at my house on her
way to a movie audition. As she swept the hall with a broom, I watched her sway her hips and fling her long silky plait over
her shoulder, and felt profoundly grateful that all the male members of the family left for work before she arrived.
But the maid
who takes the cake (or maybe the glass) is the one who turned up at my doorstep carrying a mobile phone to help her arrange
her schedules with her various clients. After every ten minute interval of work, she received a call on her cell-phone to
tell her that today she may come to Mrs. X’s house at 4.30 pm instead of 4.
But my friend
outdid even my tech-savvy one by telling me about a maid she had once hired who refused to work on weekends. When questioned
on the matter, she (the maid) claimed she needed ‘time with the family’, a concept all our workaholics could probably
take to heart.
And then I realized
that Hema was not so bad - after all, a maid in need is a maid indeed.