Maid in India

I was having this discussion with my European friends. They had me cornered to the wall. We have clean roads, better healthcare, great education, and people with more civic responsibility and so on. What do you have? They said many more things but I limit myself to just few for the sake of brevity. I pondered what is it that we have that they do not have. Then I had this sudden ‘dimag ki batti jala de’ moment – we have maid servants. My European tormentors were silenced at once.

Maid servants are such an integral part of our lives in India. So much so that no self-respecting blogger can call himself one till he has written at least one post dedicated to this tribe. So here I am finally earning my stripes as a blogger writing on this topic of utmost importance in the Indian context in my eighth year of blogging. I would however refrain from whining about my traumatic experiences with them for  bloggers have already said enough on this subject and there is where little I can add to the corpus of knowledge. So I limit myself to sharing a few random snippets just to keep a hand in the pie.

Deviating from my usual pattern of chronological sequencing, I take a reverse chronological approach starting with the most recent one who just left our service. Two hours of honest labor at our home was earning her the same amount  eight hours as a sweeper at a government office was. And given the high demand for services of this nature, more such offers were forthcoming. If she had quit her government job and taken them up instead, it would have given her a four fold increase in income for the same effort. Yet it was the job at our house that she chose to relinquish. The reason purportedly was the job of a maid servant did not hold the dignity of labor that of a government employee offered notwithstanding the fact that there was no difference in the job content. In India, job title is everything. No wonder now bank clerks are called book keeping executives, the sales man is called customer relations executive and the telemarketing caller is the call center executive. The whole word executive has taken on a new meaning. In order to differentiate, whoever is not an executives is now a vice president or a Managing Director. Given the scenario, maybe we need to re-christen maids as house maintenance executives or still better - housekeeping consultants. After all now everyone calls himself or herself some kind of consultant or the other.

Moving on, the one before this one was a pioneer who attempted to change the entire engagement model - a symbiotic relationship rather than the traditional employer employee relationship. She would do the cleaning and mopping and in return we would make tea for her and play telephone operator , dialing numbers for her on our home phone so that she can have her daily chat with her relatives and friends. When it came to payment however, the flow went only one way. In ancient days, on one specified day, European kings would wash the feet of their servants and serve them food at the royal table. We should probably count ourselves blessed to get this opportunity which even kings got only once a year on a daily basis.

Travelling further back in time, we move to my times as a bachelor. The first one we tried to hire gave us such a complicated list of items to be procured to aid her in her job that we began to wonder if she was planning to clean the house or create a comprehensive automated cleanliness management system. Talking of automated systems, how we wish we had such a system or a robotic maid like Irona, Richie Rich's robotic maid! The closest we got to that was the quiet efficient Bangladeshi maid we had while at Gurgaon. She would just come in sharp on time, quickly finish her chores and disappear without a word. The only time she ever spoke with us was to ask for her salary at the end of the month. It was indeed a moment of distress for us when Sheila Dixit sent away all the Bangladeshi immigrants for the Common Wealth games. If the quality of our immigrant maid was any indication, it is no wonder that their loss due to the Common Wealth Games caused such a wellspring of resentment against her rule that swept her out of power in the subsequent election.

Our experiences with maids in Chennai and Hyderabad unfortunately were not at all like that in Gurgaon. Despite all our efforts to keep them happy, they broke up with us. They say the girls always like the bad guys. Seems like maid servants are the same too. They would rather work for a family who keeps their noses to the grindstone slogging away to glory under the critical eye of the lady of the house with nothing better than an old rag that in its earlier incarnation as a lungi or baniyan used to protect the dignity of the man of the house. All this for a paltry pay. On the other hand bachelors get them all the latest brooms and mops, tubs, buckets and the preferred brand of detergent and cleaning fluids. They pay twice what families pay for half the work and never nag. Yet it is the bachelors who often find themselves receiving the short end of the stick.

One hypothesis I have regarding this maids’ preference for families is the availability of free gossip in families which is probably one of the perks of the job. Gossip has been the traditional opium of the middle class Indian households and the maid servants the prime distributor of the same until TV channels made a business model out of this need and started delivering it through the idiot box. Maids should probably approach the government to enforce a ban on these TV programs to protect their unique selling proposition while bans are still the flavor of the season. Television probably poses a much greater threat to them than washing machines or dishwashers. It is our social responsibility as well to protect this folk art which has been an integral part of our culture. Fresh live gossip from our own neighborhood would definitely be more wholesome and nourishing than the stale and cooked up stuff on TV channels.

That is all I had to say about maids. I am sure some of the other bloggers would be able to wax eloquent on this topic for posts and posts. As far as I am concerned, this is all I could whip up to save myself from accusations of ignoring this most influential section of Indian society on my blog.


Rajan C Mathew said...

I liked the title:Maid in India! At least the present central government is pretty serious about Maid in India rather than Made in India. Shortly all the parties in India would make the law that would force all bachelors in Gurgaon et al to pay a minimum salary of Rs.10000/- pm to all Maids in India including several perks. It is a good thing. At least now there is a thinking and working government that is going to make an unorganized sector with due legislative protection. It would be better if they make it a punishable offense of any one calling a maid a maid servant and make it mandatory to designate them as Domestic Service Executive or something similar as you have suggested.

Cart Hick said...

Thanks Rajan. Guess it will soon be made an organized service after all.

umashankar said...

Perfecto! I mean the whole article, not just the designation, 'House Maintenance Exceutive'. That reminds me of another species called 'Engineers' who come to service our water purifiers, chimneys and other household goods.

In the new city that I have shifted to, the HME' s have instituted modular service. The chores have been broken in nifty modules like Washing utensils, is keeping and moping, drying up utensils and putting them in the racks, dusting, chopping vegetables, cooking, Washing clothes, ironing etc. Each module is sacrosanct and water -tight. Each module is charged separately @ 500/- to 800/- depending on apartment' size or family members. And I thought only McKinsey or BCG could think of that. Do tell your overseas friends that too, next time you are at it.

Cart Hick said...

Thanks Umashankar. They seem to have hit upon a really interesting revenue model indeed.

Suresh Chandrasekaran said...

Ah! You deserted me, TF! Now I am the ONLY blogger who has not earned his spurs by writing about maids. :)

Reminds me of the Deewar dialogue "Mere paas maa hai" :) So you silenced your European critics with "Mere paas maid hai"? :)

Loved that executive thingy :) And , yup, Consultant sounds better.

As for the difficulty of bachelors with maids - tell me about it :)

Cart Hick said...

Thanks, Suresh. You haven't written on maids yet? I thought you had. Maybe you just mentioned something on chat. Probably high time you did.

Anonymous said...

True, they hold the key to happiness. By taking away the mundane chores they give you the time to write, to ponder on the deeper mysteries of life. I look at the maid's salary as a profit sharing even if I give x% of my salary to her, as without her I would just get a 0 :)

Cart Hick said...

Absolutely, true, Asha.

Rachna said...

I have written loads on maids.:) I think the time is right for a good law, not only to protect them but to provide us with some regularized services as well.

Welcome back, K!

Cart Hick said...

Yeah - guess so, Some start up maybe to supply maids. Thanks for the welcome back.

jaish_vats said...

It is mainly due to the economic disparity in our country that we have so many people coming as maids ...... In developed countries it's do your own work or hire a live in helper with proper work agreements ..... I have seen homes in India where they employed kids ten to fifteen years old as servants .... Vulnerable and easy to boss around and extract work .... That's the society we live in and so it's okay if they develop some tricks of their trade ... I know you wrote on a humerous note and the comment is on a serious note but I feel it's so unfair .... These kids being made to mop floors and do all household work while their own went to international schools ... Not fair at all

Cart Hick said...

I fully understand Jaish, I know a case where they used to beat the kid servant and drove him to madness while the family pomerian in the same home lived liked a princess. Coming to Europe, they have good labor laws at all levels - offices also strict 8 hour work - so people have time to come home and do household work. Here with 13-14 hour days and commuting on top, household work is last thing we need at the end of the day.

Elvira Lobo(Elli) said...

you nailed it perfectly with Maid in India, lot of concerns that matter to them and us. And ofcourse, something needs to be done on supply of HME which organise everything for the starts.I do remember when we were schooling, my mom's friend reaction- you have a maid with an aplomb was kinda of sheer wealth we had!!!

Cart Hick said...

Thanks Elvira. Yeah - no . of servants can be a status symbol.

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