Life's Like That

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

About a maid..

I have come to realize that my maid is the most important person in my life. The day that the maid does not show up at 7 a.m is...well its a tragedy. I am depressed, irritable, and prone to tears. I usually wake up at 6.30 a.m and worry about whether she will show up or not. Ah! The joy I feel when the bell rings. The bounce in my step when I go to open the door, the smile on my face when I see have to see it to believe it. The presence of easily available domestic help in India is probably the strongest argument I can present to never ever moving abroad.

After I moved into my own apartment I employed a maid. Who drank. Like the proverbial fish. Though I did not realize this till much later..I merely thought the rather strong smell that always entered the house with the maid, came from outside through the door when I opened it for her. It never once occured to me that the advance money she took from me every second week was spent on alcohol. Till Rahul complained that she smelt like a distillery. And she did you know. Strongly. Disgustingly. Horribly. Till that moment I had never once connected the red eyes, the occassionally swaying gait to alcohol. I didnt fire her though. Good maids who dont bunk are hard to find. And as long as she was not stealing my alcohol there was no reason for me to fire her.

After my drunkard maid, I moved to my present house. And hired two maids. One to cook and the other to clean. The cook seems normal. Doesnt seem to drink. Though I think shes been eating my biscuits. The empty packet was lying in the box, and neither the boy nor I have eaten them. Again, Im faced with a dilemma...she is a damn good cook. Should I just sack her over something as trivial as a few biscuits? I can always buy more biscuits. In fact, now that I think about it, I dont even like biscuits that much.

The cleaning maid...she was another matter altogether. She was this plump pleasant faced woman named Jayamma who didnt speak a word of Hindi or Tamil ( The boy speaks Tamil fluently, having grown up in Chennai, very useful accomplishment). She spoke Kannada only.And while I can understand Kannada when it is spoken slowly I cannot follow a superfast giggly conversation and I cannot speak the language. Also, she seemed to be mentally deficient. She smiled and giggled ALL THE TIME!! Glad though I am to see my maids,I do not appreciate voluble incomprehensible monologues accompanied by loud giggles and beatific smiles at 7 a.m. She didnt seem to understand even the simplest of instructions in the most basic Hindi :

Me: Yeh jhadu se idhar saaf karo...(accompanied by sweepeing arm gestures)
Maid: Giggle giggle....Lot of incomprehensible Kannada words...giggle giggle.
Me: Jhadu (brandish broom) - se- saaf (sweeping movements)
Maid: (postively hysterical) GIGGLEGIGGLEGIGGLE
Me: (firmly hand broom to her): karo (sweeping movements yet again)
Maid: (broom in hand) Broad smile.
Me: Kya hua? Saaf karo...jhadu se ( point to broom and sweeping motions again. Very tiring for the arms)
Maid: Giggle. More incomprehensible Kannada.
Me: ( take broom back and start sweeping floor)

This continued for a few days; not just sweeping, but mopping and washing utensils as well. Then I just refused to get out of bed and open the door. Rahul let her in, and she went about doing what I suppose she thought was cleaning. Except that when I did get up I would find dust and dirt everywhere, and redo everything myself. This routine was followed on the days when she actually came to work. Most days she didnt. So I decided to save myself 800 bucks a month and just sack her. At that point I had grand notions of doing all the housework myself. I told myself and anybody else who would listen that this would be good exercise and would help me stay fit, lose weight etc. Within a week I was begging all and sundry to find me a maid. The biggest reason for my dramatic change of heart was the fact that I live with a boy with amazingly dirty feet. Also that I employ a cook who likes to use an average of 16 utensils while making one dish.

Then I found Basanti, who is terribly posh. We converse in English because she doesnt speak Hindi. Only Kannada and English. She does not call me Amma or Bhaabi, she calls me Madam. She politely refused to come on Sundays. When I offered to pay her extra to come on Sundays she firmly told me "Its not about money Madam. I need one day for myself." Which is a valid point. Its just that I have never heard an Indian maid put it that way. She does not giggle or smile(thank god). In fact she hardly ever says anything. To be honest, Im quite intimidated by her. When I want ther to do something I usually think thrice before actually putting it in words.And I say it as politely as I can..."errr.. I was just wondering, if you are done with the utensils..maybe you could dust on top of the fridge??" I have all these old clothes to give away, I would normally have given them to the maids, but I am scared to ask Basanti if she wants them. What if I offend her? What if she never comes back to my house again? Would I ever find a English speaking maid again?

Such, dear Reader (those of you who have made it till here) is my life. I could tell you more, but now I have to go and purchase a Vim bar for Basanti and ginger paste for my cook. I think while Im at it, I shall buy a packet of biscuits for both of them. Cant hurt to keep them happy right?


  • I lead a disoriented life because we haven't been able to find a full-time domestic help. Been months now.

    Envy you.


    By Blogger J. Alfred Prufrock, at 11:10 PM  

  • Hmmm...completely understand... my bai is not only the most important woman in my life, (not)surprisingly she is also the most important woman in my wife's life!

    The current cook we have, we refer to as Amitabh Bachchan betwen us... she is tall, gruff and only if she chew a bidi, she would exactly be like Amitabh as the coolie in Deewar. One Sunday she came in late... and we asked her why. For a full 30 seconds (could be less, but it sure seemed that long) she looked at us and finally said "aaj Sunday hai".

    Case closed.

    By Blogger Deep, at 6:01 AM  

  • You pay 800 bucks for one of them????
    Sounds like she is the most important woman in your life.

    By Blogger Dreamcatcher, at 11:53 AM  

  • i could identify with your description of jhaadu se saaf karo...very well written - that paragraph :)

    Your Basanti character is - so unlike the one in sholay.

    The posh maid reminds me of - a friend recalling that her maid refused to scrub tough stains on dishes saying that her nails would break!

    By Blogger Reshma Bachwani-Paritosh, at 4:26 AM  

  • LOL...very nicely written Ron. I just love Basanti :)Could you say 'hi' to her for me? :)))

    By Blogger M (tread softly upon), at 10:31 AM  

  • Hi hi. Learning those lessons myself, and rather quickly.
    Biscuits? Only? Here it was brad and butter and jam and eggs and fish and oil...basically baba funded her kitchen and ours. He's been shocked since to see that a 1 kg bottle of oil lasts more than 2 days.

    Where would've we been without maids. Thank God for them.

    By Blogger i dwell in possibility, at 12:32 PM  

  • Wildly entertaining as usual! What an exciting life u do lead! Though for a minute I assumed wrongly that Basanti was the cook - wouldn't it be fun if she was? Then u could ask her to prepare some vegetable au gratin or some such continental extravaganza!!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:20 PM  

  • how come only banglore has english spking maids? my bro had an english spking maid and my aunt tried to compete wearing better sarees than her! she was ultra posh!!!

    By Blogger Rama Deepthi Muddu, at 10:23 PM  

  • Arreh your Basanti is totally akebaarey phataphati toh - oodles of personality!

    By Blogger Rapid I Movement, at 10:09 AM  

  • We had a bai once who used to drink milk and add water to it to maintain the milk level. So i can identify with your biscuit crises.

    But my current bai is god sent. I dont know what would i do without her. Recently she went on her annual leave..and i must say..i realised what she means to me and yeh she comes on sundays! :D

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:13 AM  

  • @J.A.P : Aha re.

    @deep: shottyi. what could you have possibly said to her after that?

    @dreamcatcher: honey this is bangalore.everything is doubly expensive than calcutta. including maids.

    @reshma anand: im expecting basanti to say similar things soon. i asked her today to clean the cabinets in the kitchen and the look she gave me...i am still shuddering.

    @m : sure. only..i am scared i might have offended her. in addition to the cabinets, i asked her if she wanted any of the plastic bottles i was doing away with. another very withering look followed.i hope she comes tomorrow.

    @good morning midnight: absolutely. dlont fight with them again.

    @gm: what a scary thought.

    @j-o-s-h: tell your relatives i understand completely. both my maids dress better than me.

    @rapid i movement: come here and deal with them i say!! phataphati beriye jaabe.

    @ bijoy: this was the same maid who wanted to catch and eat pigeons? very disturbing i must say.

    By Blogger Ron, at 5:08 AM  

  • Ron,
    I have to comment on this despite the slow internet in Luanda!
    The jhadu-part was so spot-on - same problem here - only its Portugese vs. all languages!
    D announced another revelation yesterday - "Bai's are the same everywhere in the world!" I have to agree.
    Lovely post - am catching up.

    By Blogger Venky, at 7:08 AM  

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