Seema was cheerful. It was a special day. She got dressed in the oversized still nice salwar kameez which once belonged to Arunima didi. The garment hung on her; pretty tones of orange and pink complementing her complexion making her look lovely despite the size of the garment. She combed her long hair and made a braid as she was always instructed to do. She loved wearing her long hair loose but she hardly had a say. Arunima didi did not like her dressing up. She did not like her looking pretty around her husband, Manoj. Dressed she came out of the room and got into the car, clutching little Saloni and putting her gingerly in the car seat.

She looked at the upscale place with moony eyes. The well dressed women made her shrink inwards. She suddenly felt conscious of her own faded, oversized clothes. She felt a few faces turn to her and snigger. She shrunk further. Saloni had begun whimpering. She immediately took her in her arms and got up to rock her.

Manoj and Arunima looked very pleased. Arunima was dressed elegantly in a pretty sari. Though plump, she dressed tastefully and today was looking rather glamorous. Manoj was good natured and did his best to cover his huge paunch under an oversized shirt and jeans. As Seema took care of Saloni, first rocking her and then as she grew quiet keeping her engaged with toys, Manoj and Arunima ordered the food after having a round of cocktails.

No one asked Seema. Seema had already eaten dal chawal at home. It would be preposterous to think that she would be fed in a star-rated eatery. Who was going to pay for a sitter’s meal? Seema had since long accepted this reality. She was shocked the first time she was told to eat at home before heading out but was used to it now.

Today for some reason, she felt sadder. As they ate sinful gooey chocolate mousse, she felt her mouth water. She averted her gaze and tried to coo to Saloni who was fast asleep in her car seat. She kept her gaze away and tried to forget that it was her 16th birthday today. Stupid as it sounds, she had somehow expected them to know. Of course, that was silly of her. She did not matter to anyone beyond bringing some comfort in their lives.

She was missing her family back in a tiny village of Jharkhand terribly. She hadn’t spoken to them for a year now. They did not have a phone back home for her to call. She knew that they must be missing her as well especially today. Amma made her favorite kheer on her birthday every year!

Arunima didi had promised her that she would get to go back home for 1 week in another 6 months’ time and she was counting days. She needed the little money that she made here. Most of what the employer gave was kept by the agency in Delhi. But this is the best she could do to ensure that her two younger sisters and brother had food on their plates and could study as well. She had to drop her studies when she came to work as a babysitter. She had asked Arunima didi for some books to study in her spare time or at night. Her demands were brushed aside brusquely. She had to look after baby Saloni. Where was the time to study?

A tear quietly slid down her eyes. She quickly brushed it away with the back of her hand. In this room full of people, she was utterly alone and helpless. Yes, it was her birthday today. But who cared!

58 Thoughts on “Seema’s agony

  1. What you have described is become a strange and common sight at restaurants these days. I have often wondered myself what goes on in the minds of sitters and maids as they sit and observe others gobble up atrocious amounts of food while they just sit and watch!

    • Yep, it is a pretty common sight, Rickie. I never had a babysitter but many of my friends did. I regularly saw them wait outside in the lounge area or even standing and looking after a baby while the others ate. Felt weird to me.

  2. 🙁
    This is so so sad… but a reality nowadays.
    It kind of breaks my heart to see people eat without a care in the world while their maids/sitters simply sit and watch or sometimes, they are told you sit outside in the waiting area :-/

  3. My heart always goes out to the baby sitters in malls and other public places. For some reason making them sit in a posh restaurant without serving them seems very unreasonable and rude to me. Money is always a factor I know. One can at least for that duration give them a little break with some money to go to the nearest food stall/court and treat themselves. Its wrong to blame the parents too on our assumptions, but I guess its difficult to maintain a fine balance. As long as they are paying them well and keeping them in good condition….

    • You are right, OHW. I am not judging them either. Of course, the homes provide them a good setup — food, clothing and money. But it is also the harsh reality that some of them are treated rather shoddily.

  4. Isn’t it funny Rachna, that people like us, who would treat our help and maids with a lot more dignity, never GET maids to treat well? You might find my remarks cynical but what I have learned in the past 20 years of dealing with maids is that they would rather be paid more than be treated better. Kinder treatment, better food and clothing, lighter work- these things don’t matter to them. Their allegiance is bought by anyone who has a bigger coin to throw.

    The other side of the coin? Perhaps 🙂

    • I have just gone through this. 4 months and I keep getting calls from the girl to take her back. I have completely chucked out full-time helps and now rely only on a part-time one for cleaning and washing dishes. Life seems a bit more hectic but otherwise is very peaceful. At least I now have an additional bed-room. 🙂

      But yes, all the girls that I have employed (7 of them) so far have been good and worked pretty well. But yes, money it is all about. Can’t blame anyone.

    • Oh, I completely agree, Dagny. I have been taken for a ride by most maids. There is only one maid I remember with much fondness who reciprocated my affection. Most of the maids that we have in cities these days don’t care for kindness or better treatment. I have seen abusive households get better maids because they pay more. Yet, I feel sorry for the baby sitters. I see so many of them, barely girls themselves, running behind toddlers. Having never had a sitter for my kids, I know how tough a job that is. I often wonder what their thoughts must be? How do they handle the frustration of being around little kids all the time? And then isn’t it human to crave better food in bigger eateries where their employers regularly eat?

  5. Moving – and a telling tale of how we have dehumanized the people on whom we depend upon for our comfortable lives.

    BUT, in a manner, I agree with Dagny too. I am a bit of a cynic about people generally. The norm is that people push to take advantage of their circumstances – which means that if YOU are good to them, YOUR work gets done less well because “Ah! Woh Didi kuch nahin bolegi”. Net result is that this ends up converting even the good-natured into demanding shrews. Mind, it is not merely among maids – it is generic to humanity. You can see the same thing in offices too.

    • You are absolutely right, Suresh. I have had terrible experiences with maids as well. Most of the time I get taken for a ride, lied to and in a way exploited as well as you very correctly pointed out because I don’t yell and abuse. That will always be the other side of the coin. It makes all of us cynical including me. Yet, somewhere I feel quite sad for these babysitters. They are almost children themselves. And many of them get exploited at the hands of their masters. Living in houses of luxury and seeing the lifestyle of the rich very closely must be making them so cynical and depressed.

  6. Interesting take on the topic Rachna. And yes, I echo Dagny’s question too. People like US who are MORE LIKELY to treat people well, rarely get child-minders or maids who are well-mannered. Rather we end up getting the “Queens” (no ref, to the movie ;)), who walk in and walk out at will.

    • I know, Sid. You and I have had our fair share of queens :). But the dehumanizing behavior that many employers subject their babysitters and maids too can also not be denied.

  7. A very common sight in malls and restaurants these days. What hurts more is to see the same people spend hundreds on playing snooker and other games but they will not ever think of sharing a small portion of the meal with these minor girls whom they employ. Wouldn’t it be better to leave them at home rather than making them aware of their poverty and misfortune every single minute?

    I have also seen people employing girls and boys of the same age as their children and then display such differential treatment. First you are engaging in child labour and then you’re literally killing childhood: of that child as well as your own child. Shameful! There should actually be a strict law to ensure child labour is banned.

    • Exactly, Rekha! That was my point in sharing this tale. I have also seen first hand what you’ve mentioned. And it makes me feel very sad.

  8. A very poignant tale which is a sad reality of our times. I hate to see people treating their helps with such disdain. And what’s more troubling is that usually these care-takers are children themselves! Of course, I have seen people who take great care of their maids too and treat them like their own children. But that’s a minority group!

    • Very true, Shilpa. I’ve seen the condition of baby sitters to be terribly sad. The employers pay through their noses but the agencies corner the lion’s share. The maids get very little. And then they have to see these sad reminders of their poverty and pitiful existence every single day.

  9. A Moving piece! Gives us a food for thought to sit back and wonder what some upscale place reflects on a downscale person. But agreeing with the other side also, it restricts us to treat the other person on the basis of their stature which almost kills our human instincts. Dilemma !!!!

  10. Your poignant tale brings out the sad reality in many nuclear households these days! Personally I prefer not to keep full time maids for their sake as well as ours!

    • Me too, Aditi! I have never kept full time maids personally but my mom used to manage them well. I saw them being treated fairly in my parents’ home. Personally, I find it terrible that they watch while the others tuck in. It just does not feel human.

  11. It is so common these days. I always wonder how difficult it is to see someone eat heartily the food you crave for. But rarely I have seen few families making the maids eat the same food.

    • True, Jas. This happens all around us. We rarely find it in our heart to share the goodies with our maids no matter how handsomely we earn. It also perhaps have to do with our feudal mindset.

  12. If they don’t want to pay for an expensive cafe meal for the maid because they give her a salary I’d try and understand. But to have her sitting right there while they gorge!

  13. Yes it is inhuman to totally deprive the maids of the good things in life.A treat here and there is called for;though i have seen that no matter how kind you are to them very few reciprocate.

  14. It is a common sight in metros Rachna. While I feel bad for the inequality, some of them are living a better life compared to what they do in their villages. In my complex, it is difficult to distinguish between a maid and a resident. They carry fancy phones, live in air conditioned environs, wear western clothes and look good. But I do feel for young girls who should be in school or college but are baby sitting. Life is not fair, is it?

    • Yes, life is unfair. And especially for little girls and boys who are engaged in household tasks instead of being in schools. But their reality back home is also terrible. Some of my friends say the same thing that they are living a much better life than at their homes. But, these girls really slog a lot. Babysitting is tough even for adults, imagine for young kids. It is a very complex issue as you pointed out.

  15. Another story of shattered dreams. It makes me really sad.

  16. A very common occurrence and not confined to present times or urban areas. Though the term ‘sitter’ may not have been used as such, young children from poverty-ridden families taking care of children of the better placed has been around since very long. Their plight has been pretty bad in the past too. For example, they had to wait for all the members of a joint family to finish eating before they could eat, Imagine, no one cared that these were children. They only thought of them as ‘servant’. Now, in present times, the same thing is being enacted in a different form. It is very sad actually. I am glad your story has highlighted this sad situation.

    • Come to think of it, yes you are right. This has been going on since ages in our country. Since they are servants, they don’t deserve any better. As a matter of fact, we feel superior for letting them live in a better house, wearing good (used) clothes and using amenities. That takes care of any guilt pangs that may come up once in a while when our own kids live in luxury and they are mute bystanders who must have no emotions at all. And then we justify all the dehumanizing behavior of ours! This feudal mindset is still very much prevalent in cities.

  17. reminded me to the struggle when i had initially come here ..

    sad sad situation , but this is what the world is coming to, where we are on our own,

  18. Inconsiderate treatment of domestic help is very common, and is sought to be justified by the employers on the grounds that their life here is far better in material terms than in their home villages.

    Quite a few of these employers rant about the ‘inhuman’ working conditions in their industry, conveniently forgetting that they are paid princely salaries.

    I’ve always believed in treating employees well and being considerate to them. For example, when travelling on work, my staff and I stay in the same hotel. This has been frowned upon by business associates in India, but I go ahead with it. I am aware that quite a few of my staff try to take undue advantage, but my satisfaction comes from the few who understand the sentiment behind my actions and start implementing it in their lives as well.

    • You have put everything I wanted to say in a nutshell. Like you, I follow the philosophy of treating them kindly. I have never had full-time maids so have never needed to travel with them. But yes, some understand your sentiment and are grateful for your humanity. Others move on to greener pastures (in terms of money) and get ill treated. But overall in our country the condition of our domestic helps continues to stay pitiful, sadly.

  19. Very true Rachna.. in restaurants or in the play area in apartment complexes or at parties and family functions.. nowadays you see these sitters everywhere.. and more often than not treated as outsiders.. I have wondered many a times as to what goes on in those simple minds.. what is basic for us in our living is a luxury for them.. how does it feel to see so much of it around.. something their families have probably never seen and will never see…

    • Yes, you are right! They are everywhere at birthday functions. At least we used to give the sitter the same stuff that was there for the kids. As human beings it is natural that they be enticed by the good food that they see or the toys and clothes. Most of them are teens themselves.

  20. It is a sad state of affairs. i would hate to see this happe ning in my surrondings.
    May be it will take time for us to get over colonial mind set

  21. I saw this last week at starbucks. The sitter was just 14-15 – which almost amounts to child labour. She was so uncomfortable and self conscious in that starbucks. I would rather people leave their kids at home then drag the poor sitter along everywhere.

    • So very sad! As you mentioned, I’ve also seen this unfold umpteen times. Exactly my point. Leave them at home to supervise the children or offer them the dignity of dining with you.

  22. Wow! I didn’t realize until I read the comments that you based the story on a very common reality! How pathetic indeed that people actually do that!

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  25. A depressing story, Rachna, but I am sure, a reality for many young people out there. Do people really do this kind of thing? I mean, I can’t imagine taking your domestic help somewhere and not even offering food. And I am shocked to read the comments that attest this despicable practice. I am wondering how we can call ourselves civilized and modern if this is how we treat fellow human beings. Truly sad. 🙁

  26. Sad reality of the world. As the discussion is on in the comments, these people prefer higher salary than better treatment and they are not going to be grateful if you give them better treatment. And it makes sense also. They have no reason to be grateful because it is just luck that you were born in a well to do family and they in a poor family – so why should they be grateful about you throwing a few scraps to them from what you got through your luck? So I am sure majority of servant classes will resent the middle class however well you treat them or however well you pay them. On our side, we can treat them best we can and still not expect any gratefulness and be wary of them. Not employing them is not a good idea as they need that money and we need the service – so at a transaction level it is an arrangement that suits both parties.

    • I do understand what you are saying, TF. I have been burnt by the rude and insensitive behavior of maids as well. But my point in writing this story was the basic humanity that all of us must exhibit. Perhaps, they are not grateful or they don’t care. But as educated people how can we indulge in behavior like this. I cannot eat in a high-profile place while a person watches me eat. I just can’t do it.

  27. janu on May 6, 2014 at 9:00 pm said:

    Even at homes these helps are made to wait to be served food. They will be served last after everyone eats and most of the time it may not even fulfill their appetite. Sad but true. I have seen young girls and boys pick up heavy loads of vegetables and groceries while their employers walk ahead without a bag on them.

    • True, Janu! I have heard and read hair-raising tales of abuse of young girls and boys who are made to slog from morning to night and barely fed. It is sick how we ill treat those below us in status. And the educated and rich are the worst culprits :/.

  28. I had tears in my eyes by the end of the story….why do they have to take the sitters at all? They can leave them at home with the kids right? Why do they have to take the sitters and the babies as well? And make them feel lonely and sad…Glad I never had live in maids…

  29. Pingback: Let that child free! | Rachna Says

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