Thursday, April 18, 2013

Maid For Each Other?

For the smooth running of a household a maid plays an important role. Women talk about their experiences with them

By Shevlin Sebastian 

Reena Mathew, 40, was pregnant when an 18-year-old Bengali maid, Sunita, came to work for her at her home near the Ernakulam Town railway station. “She did not know much about our way of cooking, but showed a willingness to learn,” says Reena. “It took her about six months to settle down.”

Soon, Sunita became adept. She kept the house clean, did the cooking, washed the utensils and the clothes. “Not even a pin would be out of place,” says Reena. “I was very happy with her.”

A grateful Reena treated Sunita like a member of the family, which included husband, Joshy, 42, and sons, Melvin, 15, and Joseph, 9. “I would take her everywhere,” says Reena. “Like, when we went out for dinner, or for shopping and movies. We would see Hindi films, just for her. Later, I would give her CDs to watch Hindi movies when her work was over.”

Four blissful years went past. But soon, Sunita’s parents started pressuring her to come back, so that she could get married. “Sunita told me that I should call up her parents and tell them she could not come, because she had been caught stealing and there was a police investigation going on,” says Reena, with a laugh. “I did not want to do that. I told Sunita that she belongs to her family and if they want her to get married, she should obey them.”

Eventually, Sunita returned to her home town of Digha, in West Bengal, got married to a carpenter, and has settled down. Now and then she calls Reena up. “Sunita sounds happy on the phone,” says Reena. “But she says, ‘Who knows what the future is going to be like?’”
Today, Reena, who works in an office, after several maids who came and went, now has a part-time servant, Latha, who comes for an hour in the morning and evening. “I pay Rs 120,” says Reena. “The reason why I pay Latha on a daily basis is because of all the hartals and bandhs we have. They take a lot of leave. But I am satisfied with her work although I do miss Sunita.”
Asked whether these house workers are honest, Reena says, “I have always been a careless person. I leave cash and gold all over the place. But in my experience, the poor are far more honest than the rich.”

Vandana Rao is also happy about the honesty of her 60-year-old maid, Omana. “She is sincere, nice, and very neat in her work,” says Vandana. Omana has been working with her for the past four years. Vandana had maids earlier whose performance was not satisfactory. “I would quickly part ways with them,” she says. “I don't want to have altercations and spoil my day.”

Since Vandana and Omana spend long hours together, sometimes, they discuss family matters. “Omana tells me how upset she gets when she has differences of opinion with her family members, especially her daughter-in-law,” says Vandana. “But, later, she will tell me, it will take some time for them to get a better understanding with each other.”

Janaki lives with her son. Her husband died early and she brought up her son and three girls all on her own.

Unlike Reena, who gives daily wages, Vandana is paying a good monthly salary. “I want her to feel happy,” says Vandana. Omana comes at 9 a.m. and goes at 2.30 p.m. Her job is to sweep and swab the house, wash the dishes and cut vegetables.

Asked how the relationship breaks down, Vandana says, “It is usually on the issue of salary. The cost of living is going up. Everybody works to get money. Like all of us, they also want to satisfy their and their children's needs.”

Maid Baby Amma is working for Lakshmi Mahajankatti for the same reason. She wants to pay for the education of her children. The maid goes to Lakshmi’s house in Ravipuram, at 11 a.m., when Lakshmi, a manager with a training organisation, is not at home. 

“Baby Amma is responsible for the household in my absence,” says Lakshmi. “She washes the dishes and the clothes, grates coconuts, cuts vegetables, and makes chappatis. When my son and daughter return from school, she gives them milk and snacks to eat. She leaves at 4.45 p.m.” Baby Amma has been working for the past five years and Lakshmi finally got a servant that suited her after many maids came and went.

Meanwhile, when asked about the absence of their men in the kitchen, Lakshmi says, “Husbands don't exist. They are never a part of the family. All husbands in Kerala should go to the US once. The Indian women, who have gone there, have learnt from their American counterparts about how to bring the husband into the kitchen and help out in the chores.”

Reena has a different perspective. “In India, we have a better support system,” she says. “We have maids and in-laws. This is absent abroad. Therefore, husbands have to help the wives at home. There is no choice. If they don't do so, they will probably have no clothes to wear or food to eat. However, in the end, men are from Mars, while women are from Venus. We are wired so differently and, by nature, men prefer to go out and work, rather than help out in the kitchen.” 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)  

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