“My mother has been very unwell.” There’s always a very. “I never told you because I didn’t want you to worry.” Of course not I thought. “I have to go back to the village to settle her property before she dies.” Aah so she’s found a better job with more pay. With a false tear in her eye and a hope in her head, my maid Kajal stood forlornly at the kitchen door. This was the eighth maid that had made an excuse and left. And I could not do a thing about it.
I thought I was the epitome of the modern day woman. I was educated well. I had worked hard for a career. I was a mother, a perfect wife, a loyal friend and I even had a few hobbies thrown in like painting, writing and being a sommelier that would categorize me as someone who could hold my own. But the thought of not having a maid, yet again left me weak in the knees and a fear in my heart.
Therefore, I did what I only knew I could do. I called the husband and blasted him. “Kajal’s mother is sick,” I sobbed, “What am I supposed to do? I cannot get any more leave! My boss thinks my maid situation is the excuse I give for bunking work. She’s going to fire me.”
“Call the agency. Ask them to send a replacement.” He said calmly as usual. See it was not his problem, he thought. His problem was to become the CEO of whatever he was doing. A maid or no maid was not going to stop him.
I took a deep breath before I began, “They do not pick up my phone!” I screeched, “We have paid 3 agencies already. I don’t have money to keep giving out to new agencies every month to find a replacement. Do something! Call the consumer court. Go to the police station! Come back home! Look after your own child!”
He said he had to go back to his meeting and would discuss it when he got home. Typical! Therefore, I was stuck once again without a maid and a deadline that had to be submitted in the next few hours. My two-year-old daughter needed to be picked up from school, fed, changed, and kept busy while I had to find an excuse in office, call the agency, and find a replacement. It’s only one of these days that the washing machine would break, the geyser would bust, and there would be no milk or food in the house with the cook on vacation.
I remembered the list of maids I had.
Anandhi – A cock eyes south Indian who lived in Dharavi, or Chembur, or Ghatkopar. We never knew where because every time she had to leave early she came up with a place far away that she had rented, bought, or moved to. One day, after she had taken her full salary she called frantically and said she had to leave for the village. “Why?” I asked. “My first husband who left me for another woman has got an electric shock and might be dying and wants to see his kids for the last time so I have to take them there.”She said in one breath. So I thought about it and replied, “Well, by the time you reach, won’t he be dead anyway?” All right, it was an insensitive thing to say. But I was grasping in thin air. I reasoned with her that I would let her go by the end of the week once I had figured out who could look after the children and I would give her money to go as well. She left nevertheless. And was never heard from again.
Maya – She was a plump Assamese woman who I thought would be great since she could teach my daughter some Bengali. She stayed with us for two months. Just when my daughter was easing up to her and I was taking on more responsibility at work, she said her sister in law had cancer and needed to go back to Assam for treatment. “Are you sure it’s not just because Durga Puja is in three days?” I asked sarcastically. But she insisted that she would return. Next thing I know, she can’t find a ticket to come back for another two months. Oh yes, she took her full salary and all the clothes I had bought for her as a thank you for looking after my child.
Priyanka – By the time Priyanka entered our lives some three more people had come and gone for less than two weeks. Why? Because a 40 year old woman can’t play with a three year old child and she get’s “bored and needs entertainment” as Shaila once cribbed. A 20 year old woman “can’t live without her boyfriend” and ran away with him as Renuka did and a friend of the cook’s who lived close by and could come for a few hours was berated by her husband for leaving her own children to look after another as Mangala alleged. Priyanka stayed a whole ten days. When I left for Delhi with my child, I gave her a few days off to enjoy herself and come back. But she never did. Apparently, her brother found a husband for her took her to the village and got her married off. Oh yes, even she took her full salary and left.
Maids are the Modern Woman’s ailment. We can cope with aches and pains, we can manage four inch cysts to 36 hour deliveries, we can handle bad bosses and painful in laws. We can even survive poverty, bloatedness, and moving houses a hundred times. What we cannot deal with is how to endure bad maids, or lack of them.
My foreign friends make fun of me. They say I have the benefit of having “help” in my life and they do not have any. I wonder if we are better off as Indians to have that much of “help.” Abroad, you cannot hire anyone unless you have background checks, social security numbers, and reference calls. Here we ask, “When will you start?” As much as I do not like my child being brought up by a maid, I don’t have an option of a large joint family who can look after her. She refuses to stay in crèches and day cares even though I have tried to leave her. Moreover, asking friends to look after my child while I go make a career for myself is neither ethical on them nor me as a mother. The guilt for mothers will remain. A successful career or time with your child. The eternal conflict.
A good friend once told me, “The Perfect Maid doesn’t exist. It’s like the Perfect Man. They’re both urban legends!”
I envy the people who have great maids. Farah Khan would not have been able to direct two movies if she did not have three people looking after her three children. Angelina Jolie would not be able to save the world in her Lara Croft outfit if she didn’t have 5 maids looking after her 5 children.
There will be a constant problem with the maids. Therefore, I have figured out a few solutions:
· Find a neighbour who’s reliable who can babysit the child for a few hours while you do urgent work in office.
· Figure out flexi timings with your office so you can work around your husband’s schedule and child’s school. Alternatively, can work at night once she sleeps and you can go back to office/ send out things from home.
· Ask the husband/ family to look after her 2 days in the week while you tell your office that you will work weekends if given 2 days off in the week.
· Find a good crèche or day care close by where you can settle your child for the whole day.
· Move closer to people whom you can leave your child with – friends or family. Pay them well. Deposit money into their accounts or buy them expensive presents every month as a thank you.
· Keep a battery of maids. If one goes, at least you have another to back up without jeopardizing your work.
· Tell your husband you need time off for yourself every week to replenish your resources to manage a house and child.
After watching the back of nine maids in the last two years, I have learnt the most important thing is to breathe correctly and not panic. I know that it is not my fault that they are leaving since I make all attempts to make them feel at home. Nevertheless, I know that my child and my career are equally important. Sometimes the house need not be perfectly clean. And sometimes it’s ok if the child doesn’t eat healthy food or watches too much television. I know that I have the strength to become the best at what I do even though it may take time. But I know I don’t have to pressurize myself in doing so immediately. In the meantime, I pray every night to the God of Maids for rewarding my patience and finding me that Ideal House Help.