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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Me, Maid and Madness!

Busy, crazy, hectic, stressful. Some adjectives describing my life and yours!
Domestic chores; surviving unruly traffic on potholed roads; deadlines, grumpy bosses & difficult subordinates in office; scouting for good school for kid and her admission tensions, participating in her various games & activities, attending birthday parties; entertaining guests, socialising on weekends...Wooof!!! Multi-tasking is the name of the game!!!

Imagine you were granted a wish...something to get respite from this madness...What would you ask for? If in India, (as I am), it would surely be a LIVE-IN MAID!!!!! A much in demand 'commodity' in today's urban nuclear families who do not have the support system of the joint family our previous generations were so accustomed to.

Once you are fortunate enough to 'acquire' one, life would be a cake walk ...or so you would think....!

The other day my husband and I were discussing the day’s editorial on the current economic scenario- recession looming over our heads, leaving no industry unscathed. (These days, we wake up to stories of joblosses, paycuts, recruitment freezes splashed all across newspapers and media every single morning). My husband stated in his characteristic deadpan style that the maidservants were the ONLY recession-proof professionals in the current scenario!

Though it was a statement made on a humorous note, the words struck a chord and made me think….

I tried to analyse my maid's case. For convenience, let's call her M.

Working Hours :
For five days a week, M's working hours are five-six hours per day. Her employers (i.e WE!) are out of home at 9AM and back only after 7-30PM). On certain occasions when my husband / I have come home unannounced during the afternoons, we’ve found her either watching TV or sleeping. Sleeping so deeply that we’ve had to wait for five to ten minutes before she obliged us and opened the door…looked at us groggily in her sleepy daze and stated point blank that we hadn’t informed her that we would be coming home (in a slightly offended manner conveying her irritation at having her afternoon siesta disturbed). On one ocassion, I just couldn’t tolerate her insolent tone and subtly rebuked her that lest she’d forgotten, the home happened to be mine and I was free to come and go as I pleased!!!!!

Phone calls. To her mother, daughter, cousins, uncles spread out all over the country...M has informed her umpteen relatives to give her a 'missed call'. She has gleefully told them that she would call back!!! I wanted to scream and tell her ...lady, it's our hard-earned money that you're blowing away to maintain your social network!!!! My plight (refer to Para 1) was such that I could only mildly admonish and tell her to restrict her calls to a total value of Rs.50 a month. the next telephone bill told me, my admonishment had indeed fallen on deaf ears!! Upon reminding her, I was told with a non-chalant shrug that she has no control over emergencies.... Well well welll!!!!

Employee Health Benefit (beauty, nutrition): 'Health is weath' is M's motto in life! We discovered this over a period of time, accidentally!
My sister, during her visit, noticed her applying something on her face during afternoons and nights. I enquired and her reply left me speechless.
She had supposedly started developing pimples on her face ONLY after she joined my home. Prior to that her face was now the onus lay on me to revive her lost glow! To be frank , I really dont remember having noticed her flawless complexion or lack of it, when she joined me a year back. So I had to give her the benefit of doubt!

So now she uses raw tomato juice in the afternoons and Haldi & malai paste at night...and in a self satisfied tone told me that she was benefitting from this treatment! For your information, the tomatoes, malai and haldi are all sponsored by me!!
I wonder why I hardly remember to use the cold cream at night regularly!!!! Shame on me...

Last week my husband volunteered to do the weekly vegetable shopping. And predictably forgot some regular items. One of them being lemon. M expressed extreme dissatisfaction that 'Dada' hadnt got all the stuff. When I sternly informed her that I would get them during my next visit to the store and she HAD to make do with whatever was available, she proclaimed that she needed the lemons for her daily dose of 'neembu-paani' -a must to keep her blood pressure normal !! By then my blood pressure had soared and she got a taste of it instantly!!! Result - sulking and gloominess for the next 24 hours.

LTAs & Mandatory Offs : Her to and fro ticket fares to her village are obviously borne by me. And though her departure date normally coincides with ours, during our Puja vacation, though my husband had taken a leave of just 4 days and i had been off from work for 9 days, M HAD to take 20 days vacation. She wanted a month's leave. When I refused, she informed that she wouldnt and couldnt settle for less than 20 days as she had social and religious obligations to meet!!! Well duty could wait....if only we had that privilege!!!

Life, as is evident, hasnt become a cake-walk. Sometimes I wonder whether the comfort of having a live-in maid is worth the money and effort! Managing her various demands, mood-swings sometimes becomes a tad too much after a tired days work!

But juggling a multitude of domestic chores in addition to the office work, was taking a toll on my mood and stretching my ability to it maximum a live-in maid has become, not an option but, a necessity! So what's the guarantee that M's probable replacement would be any better than her? At least she's honest (apparently so), forgetful but responsible, cooks edible food and most importantly, is affectionate to my kid!

Do I even dare ask for more??

Dada - A Bengali word which means elder brother
Haldi - A Hindi word which means Turmeric. It is an Indian spice as well as a natural antiseptic & skin conditioner
Malai - A Bengali/Hindi word which means Milk cream and is a natural skin moisturiser
Neembu-Paani - A Hindi term which means fresh lemonade


Rama said...

Dear Sharmistha,
Enjoyed reading it. Maid - full time or part time, is a head ache. Putting up with them is a head ache and firing them is even more a head ache :-) Guess, have to live with it.

HR said...

The gloomy side of the unorganized labor industry is emerging as a national if not a global problem of late. It has taken a menacing shape starting from the end of last decade. Few months back, in West Bengal, few numbers of unorganized labor sectors had unified to deliberate on the issues of grant of PF contribution,insurance and all other benefits under labor law by their owners. Live in maid is a constituent of the above mentioned sector. I feel it is the need of the day to classify the nature of services to be rendered by this group of people. The basic necessities,periodical relief,vacations, entertainment and all possible means of livelihood are required to be spelt out in a cogent manner. An apex body in localities are to be formed with whom such people needs to be registered.The charges will be fixed by the apex body based on the above aspects. The concept is similar to that of security agencies. People who need services have to hire maids from these apex bodies by entering into an agreement.
Such type of arrangement will curtail rather eradicate the whims of the servant since the details are documented. It is expected that no room will be left vacant for the maid to do any sort of arm twisting . No need to suffer from the outcome of the vagaries caused by the live in maid. The proposed system is not at all a big deal. As I understand it is a very common phenomenon in advanced countries.

A nice write up. I feel others will also share their ideas.The writings of the author is always a matter to savor.
Some more please...

Anonymous said...

Dear Buddhi,

The account is hilarious ....but definitely if I had to put up with it I would be mad.


sanghamitra said...

Hi Di,, was so hilarious readin about ur "M"..Actually we never remeber to do our touch ups through out the yr...and gud to see that uv used the word "MAND OFF".....HSBC crowd will be xcited to see it!!!!

ask said...

After a long time could catch up with your blog….interesting read!...Our on going search for a part time cook seems to be never ending. I guess life with or with out domestic help is frustrating at times. Often grass always seems to be greener on the other side. So hope we will be settling a cook soon.


Sangita said...

Hi Sharmistha,

I really enjoyed reading it especially because I realised that I am not the only working woman who is suffering because of M. I don't have a full time maid at home though I tried a lot for it. But the madam M who comes to my home from Monday to Friday must have exhausted all her CLs and PLs so you can understand in the past one year how many times my blood pressure must have gone to the peak after knowing that either she is not well or her one of the children is not well. Disgusting.... So, from next month onwards no more depending on these maids I have decided. A creche would be a better option for me.

Happy New Year!! Just felt like sharing the above.


Shikha said...

Thank you so much. Merry Christmas to you all too. And a very Happy New Year.

I think maids have become inherent part of our lives or may be WE have made them the ultimate driving force of our family which is a consequence of not having to work 'That' extra hard and each member not sharing the household responsibility. There is a thin line between treating them right (or with dignity) and exploiting them however out of our own insecurities (which makes them think they are indispensible) they successfully and conveniently get away with anything, trampling our expectations.
Its also about managing their expectations from the very beginning. It should be made clear that the live-in/part-time arrangement is like any other job and they get paid only for the services they offer or for what is required of them and no other nonsense would be tolerated. Especially when they extend the responsibility and welfare of their family members too on your shoulders. I believe a lot depends on how We want to run our household. There is technology available in the market which, to a certain or may be large extent, can reduce your dependence on M's (I loved this title) who does not come very cheap either and not to forget their 'Nakharas', like merchandise coming with a complimentary gift. Ofcourse in M's case this extra gift is not desirable.
When we go out and work, the company does not bother about our personal and household problems. They don't dole out extra money as and when we desire. Sometimes not even when we work extra hard for them so why should M's be an exception. The mere fact that they come from the marginalized section of the sciety does not give them the right to rob us of our peaceful existence and take advantage of our situation.

The solution is in our hands. We cannot totally blame M's for our present day dilemma.
Think about it......


SGD said...

Thanks for all your feedback.

As has been rightly pointed out that either with Ms/without Ms, the problems persist...
And it's also true that because we put up with their 'nakhras' they get the impression that they are indespensable! It is WE who contribute greatly to their various whims, wishes and demands.
As has been accurately pointed out, technology is available which could reduce the role of Ms in our households, if not made redundant. In the the western world, live-in/part time maids are almost unheard of, then why cant it be the same here in India?
I feel there are several reasons...if I start listing out all (as per my point of view), another blog entry is called for... ;).
I'll just touch upon a few which are coming to mind ...
here in India, though the technology is readily available, the necessary infrastructure may not be. A dishwasher or a washing machine cannot run without electricity or running water....In India, these are two common problems faced by almost every household, almost several times a month, if not daily!
Our food habits are such, we rarely depend on packaged or frozen stuff. We prefer eating it veggies or meat. And our supermarkets are yet to provide services of cleaning/cutting/chopping to a large extent.
Creches and daycare centres are very recent introductions to the Indian society. And the standard of most leave a lot to be desired. Moreover, they do not accept babies less than a year old.
A few simple instances and it's evident why the Ms manage to call the shots in our busy lives.
But the other side of the story is-due to lack of a structured system, there are several instances of extreme exploitation of Ms in various forms....
So both parties have their share of grievances which require introduction of system, clarity of terms of service, professionalism etc etc which will take care of the needs / interests of the Ms as well as us.

Roshni Mitra Chintalapati said...

Spoilts brats!!! Grumbling about your maids!! Consider each extra helping hand a boon! ;-)
Seriously speaking, I have seen enough of what maids do at my parents' house never to want one! My husband and I run the household and for your information, we cut our own vegetables and cook our own food. Yes, we do use the washing machine but I don't know any household in India now that does not use one! We do have a dishwasher but have become efficient enough to wash each dish as and when we finish using it. As for the kids... my dears, please play with them and talk to them while they let you.. in another 10 years time, you may be yearning to do just that while they will not have the time of the day to give you! And, frankly speaking, I would rather hand my children to educated, trained professionals in a creche than an illiterate person for the whole day (sorry, if I sound snobbish.. I guess I am)
And, both my husband and I work full time.. so please, it IS possible!