Thursday, April 7, 2011


“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.


vinayy said...

would sound feminine bt u ve perfectly described a 28 yr old bachelors last 2 years in kolkata. (and i am not gay :P) happy though that i didnt need to pay u to write this autobiography :)
the only difference is i cant sob (male ego) and the kids character in ur story gets replaced by my naughty german shepherd.

Madhuri Banerjee said...

Thanks Vinayy. All the best :)

Anonymous said...

I liked the line

..... mother, a perfect wife,

thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

Keep writing,
Mukesh Rijhwani

Anonymous said...

Its true though: the part about people outside India not having any help. Is India dirtier or are people just used to having a maid?

Aditya said...

I get to hear the very same things from my bhabhi as well.

Her problem - she cannot turn a blind eye to whatever the maid does. The maid's problem - she cannot please bhabhi; not because she has some high standards - only because she is a maid.

Tell bhabhi to ignore things that the maid does and she has the old indian middle class dialogue ready- Ye paisa free mey nahi aata hai.

Tell bhabhi that the maid will quit if you complain in this way and she turns a blind eye. "Not a problem, I can manage."

She is a house wife but the thing she hates the most is preparing chapatis for which we principally employ a maid. What's worse, recently my brother joined a gym and the instructor strictly asked him to have chapatis only if he wanted to lose the paunch.

So when the maid quits, with very much the same excuses that you quoted in your article, it takes just 2 days for bhabhi to realize the maid's importance.

Two times she has gone back to the same maid, one of who came back on an increased wage and after bhabhi agreed to agree to a set of demands.

So as you see maid woes are not just for working women. They are for housewives too

Madhuri Banerjee said...

@ Mukesh - hahhaha. Yes, I'm a narcissist. And when no one appreciates me for being the perfect wife, I blog abt it ;)

@Aditya - Universal problem. My heart goes out to your bhabhi. I hope ppl appreciate all that she does, with or without a maid :)

Anonymous said...

J'aime vraiment votre article. J'ai essaye de trouver de nombreux en ligne et trouver le v?tre pour être la meilleure de toutes.

Mon francais n'est pas tres bon, je suis de l'Allemagne.

Mon blog:
taux credit puis Rachat de credit au meilleur taux

Madhuri Banerjee said...

Darling, j'écris en anglais. vous êtes allemand, mais vous écrivez en français? C'est hilarant!

Prabhat Sinha said...

Loosing virginity has a cost - of getting babies - and "suffering" life long - you need to blog and tell the world that both the child and career are important to you..but you know in your heart how you crib about having a baby you need to is something you have got after real hard work..which only an intelligent person like you can get and deserve..while getting baby is a very un-intelligent job - any tom, dick and harry can get it without "much" effort..I wonder why a modern and intelligent womam opt for babies..which should be left to only illeterate and boorish kind of behanjee..may be they think that they are queens.. would get 24X7 slaves (other not so intelligent women)to serve them..and to the world they would blog their feminist last thing - why did you forget to thank all the people who have created all readily available junk foods, colas..pizzas..which you push down the throat of your baby...

Letter from a Hogwarts Teacher to Hermione

My daughter Ariaana is a big Harry Potter fan. For her summer holidays she's gone to spend time with her grandparents. So I thought I...