We share a love-hate relationship with our domestic helps here in India. If you can find a good one, you hold on to her tight. A good help, however, can easily get poached. So you pamper her with honeyed smiles. Your bad moods are never for her to endure. You smile when she tells you that she needs a holiday or two though inside you are flashing daggers at her. And the patience you display with her will make your kids roll their eyes.

In my house, everyone knows that I safeguard my domestic help like a mother hen or a tigress. No mistake she makes is big enough for a rebuke. And somehow, just like that, even though I am not the type who is given to much chatting, we have fallen into a routine of talking. She has over time shared about her alcoholic husband and his brutalities. She singlehandedly manages her home and two girls while the good-for-nothing guys just whiles away his time and money in drinking.

While I’ve tried to help her out, finding out details about AA near her, I know that she is tied by societal norms much more than I ever can be hence refusing the counselling. To her, it matters to have a husband, no matter how worthless he is. Her in-laws’ opinion counts for much more than her own when it comes to the decisions in her life. To think that she married outside her community but luckily her family did not desert her.

Yesterday, when she conveyed the sad news of the death of a little girl in her building, it worsened my already terrible headache. As I was holding my head and listening to her, she asked if I had taken medicine. I had, of course, but it had not helped. She was quite shaken herself and was rushing to the funeral of the girl after finishing her work in the houses she worked in. Her eyes watered as she spoke about the little girl who was her daughter’s friend. Both of us mothers, we were stunned thinking about the deep pain and loss of another mother who had lost a child so young.

That is when she asked me why I had a headache? I said I didn’t know. I woke up with a throbbing one. She told me that she gets bad headaches due to stress. But why would I have one? After all, what stresses did I have? She was referring to the husband and I. Anna or brother, referring to my husband’ never laid a finger on me. So what could possibly be bothering me? What a simplistic view of things?

Her question did not elicit any response from me. Her observation came from the existential struggles that she and other women from her strata put up with day in and day out. They are women who worked hard doing household work to run their homes. They make the money but have no freedom in how it is spent. They put up with abuse daily because this is the only normal they have known. Marriage for them was all about having a mangalsutra or sindoor to protect themselves from unwarranted attention. I once had a domestic help who wore these marital symbols despite being divorced because she was attractive and was sick of the harassment from males that she experienced.

At the level of a woman, I understood her troubles. But in the larger picture, our angsts and stresses were so totally different. It was a reality check for me. I felt gratitude for my blessings and also felt a deeper empathy for her. Yes, I have told her to throw her husband out and she has tried to do that. But she still takes him back in every time. Very complex the entire situation is. But the most important part is that she tries to stay happy. She loves wearing flowers in her hair. Roses sometimes, jasmine flowers and at other times those pretty orange flowers. Small joys in her life that make her life more bearable.

And yes, she dotes on her daughters. She lives for them. That I can relate with.

Pic courtesy: HQuality on Shutterstock



28 Thoughts on “Of House helps and Things Here and There

  1. My maid too has a good for nothing husband. And I know she cannot throw him out too. She dotes on M, comes to my home even when she is taking an off elsewhere because she knows I have a toddler and it’s tough. I try to help her in any way I can. When she is sick, I don’t let her wash the utensils and I give M’s clothes to her granddaughter. Sometimes I wonder how else can I help her. All women have struggles in their lives is what I have learnt and as you said, it differs based on what starta they belong to. I guess all we can do is help each other in any way we can.
    Nabanita Dhar recently posted…Poem | My Little FairyMy Profile

  2. The extra pair of hands we need is our maids. Without them, we cannot be the empowered, independent women. But your observation is spot on when you think about what stresses you have compared to her. Atleast, we have her to take care of our duties, but who helps her. Thankfully, my maid has a doting husband and it shows in their family prosperity. Her children are educated and are having good jobs.
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  3. I was lucky to have a good bai’s in Pune when I was a student and they were like mother figures. You get a peek into their troubled lives of being battered with alcoholic son and husband snatching their earnings. It tears the heart to listen to such things.

  4. Our maids are so much a part of our lives that they become almost family. And yet their concerns and worries are so on a completely different level. Sometimes I lose my patience with mine – she recently became a grand mom (to a boy) and has been spending like crazy despite grudging every single penny, only because she is ‘expected to’. They have a whole different set of pressures to deal with. Like you said we really should be grateful.
    Obsessivemom recently posted…Why reading aloud to older children is a good ideaMy Profile

    • Oh yes, l’ve noticed that. They are so bothered about each stupid ritual and what will the neighbors say that they spend obscene amounts of money. A previous maid spent so much on her daughter’s pregnancy and delivery and went into heavy debt. Maybe because they are more conventional and less educated.

  5. I’m hugely emotional and I would get consumed by such events. I don’t have a maid and this post tells me that I probably should never get one.

    Seriously, we women have to go through so much. More so, the women who fall into this sector. It is really sad to think about the things they have to endure just to make a living. We all should feel so privileged.
    Soumya recently posted…Topics I Hate To Talk/Write AboutMy Profile

    • I am emotional too but l guess l try to help her out in whatever way l can. Any strata of society women have a lot on their plate. Just that our struggles are different.

  6. Maids are such an invasive part of our lives and we can just not stop being close and worried about them. Sadly many of them face such issues. My maid has a good husband who dotes on her. It is a blessing for all and sets a good example for her kids.
    So sorry for the loss of the little girl’s life, an innocent has died in vain. 🙁
    Inderpreet. recently posted…Book Blitz for HIS CHRISTMAS DELIGHT by Summerita RhayneMy Profile

  7. Bittersweet as your maid’s life story is, I feel you must get out more and meet more interesting and likeminded company! 2-4 kitty-shitty join karo. Mann bhi laga rahega aur headache bhi nahi hoga! ?

    • Kitty and me? Aur zyaada headache hoga. ? l do meet like-minded people but imagine if l wrote all that on my blog. I will have no friends left. On a serious note, they really do have such hopeless lives.

  8. Sigh. That’s the story of almost all our domestic helps, Rachna. My earlier one went through the same thing. Poor soul.
    I agree with you that our helps are our precious possessions, and we tolerate not a single word against them by anyone..including our families! ;P
    They do have this simplistic view of life, and at times, I envy them for that. We entertain all sorts of unnecessary stress and ruin our peace of mind. But, these women, they are happy with whatever little they possess as long as their good-for-nothing husbands return home at night and their kids turn out okay. There’s so much to learn from these simple souls, isn’t it?
    It was such a heartwarming post, Rach! <3

  9. I have seen how my Mom connect with our maid too… Long time back… Both sharing their stories. She had lost a husband and needed money to take care of kids. As soon as her daughter grew up and started working, she made her mom stop working as maid… Now the maid often visits our home for some tea and snacks.
    It’s so sad to hear about the little girl. I feel for her mum. Such a tragedy!
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  10. Our life seems like a blessing compared to the struggles they have to put up with every day of their lives. Yet we get upset by minor upheavals.

    Anyhow, my hired helps are my lifelines. Even if one of them goes on a prolonged leave, my life goes tops-turvy.

  11. I know what you mean by the love-hate relation 🙂 I have learned, you can share your food and shelter but not your maid. These days I am so…what do you say?? So careful not to share my maid’s contact 😛 . Sshhh..don’t tell my Dallas friends, okay?
    On a serious note, yes, our problems are very small compared to that of our maids according to them. Maybe they are trivial too at times.

  12. My maid has a married daughter who is constantly beaten by her husband. I have told my maid so many times to complain to the police or get her daughter back. But she refuses to do so. I quite understand her position… Answerable to society and an additional expense the daughter at home is a bigger problem to her. And as you say.. that’s the time i am greatful for all the good things in my life.

  13. I have had three maids in two postings. I am also not the chatty type, but I am protective about them. My last maid had a good for nothing husband. He was an alcoholic and she was the sole bread winner of her family of six. She was my Hindi tutor for I just couldn’t converse in HIndi though I could understand the language. I fondly remember her.
    So sorry for the loss of the little girl’s life.

  14. Yeah our struggles are so different aren’t they..A world apart. Reminded me of that pizza movie I wrote about..”kakkamuttai”.
    It does bring certain harsh truths of life.
    Asha recently posted…Of talking rooms in Kochi BienalleMy Profile

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