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My current maid is the talkative kind. She regularly shares anecdotes of her family. She has two daughters younger than my children. She is working hard to put them in school. Her husband is a painter (not the Arts kind). I have noticed that whenever her children are sick, she is the one who takes leave to take them to the doctor. When I asked why her husband never helps out, her dam burst. She told me how her husband was an alcoholic. He cared nothing for the daughters or her. He also hit her sometimes. She said it with a stoic attitude, reconciled to her fate and trying to do her best with her limited resources. She did not even grumble or curse her fate.

Contrast that to our outrage day in and day out on issues that seem so much more trivial.

I knew better than to ask her why she doesn’t leave him. Sitting in my cushy house, it is easy for me to dole out advice. I had actually made the mistake of suggesting this to an earlier maid. That one had tried to attempt suicide but had survived. She told me that she needed the mangalsutra and sindoor no matter how fake the bond was. It was because in her shanty, she needed to have a man in her house to feel safe. Her children needed that name stamp as well. Else, they were easy meat for the predators that thrive openly. She was scared for her daughter too. She got her married off pretty early as well.

Things may be different for people in our strata, but they are not easy for single women. I remember a friend had shared her experience of how renting a flat was a nightmare because she was single. She also found random men taking a lot of interest in her activities just because she lived alone.

I also remember another maid, one who I am still in touch with and I am very fond of as well. She was a grandmother at a ripe young age of 40 or less. She wasn’t sure of her age. She was overly protective of her married daughter who came home year after year pregnant. She had to take care of her and her deliveries often incurring huge debts. She cursed her fate because her daughter produced 3 daughters. Could I spin my usual talk about girls and boys being equal to her? In her world, they were not. She was spending through her nose because she had a daughter.

Her in-laws were desperate for a boy child. The eldest granddaughter now stays with her in her small shanty. Yes, I have been to her home. It is a one-room shanty in a slum with an open gutter outside the house. Five members of her family live in that one-room house. No, I wasn’t shocked, just sad. Recently I met her. Finally, she said her daughter was freed not because she bore a son but because finally she was able to convince her in-laws to get her sterilized. A very big victory for her and her daughter. She was mighty pleased.

Each of these women is slogging day in and day out for meager money. They struggle to put their children through school and college, dreaming that one day hopefully they will be able to live a better life. In most cases, they don’t have much monetary or moral support from their husbands and families. Most of them are compulsive alcoholics and wife beaters. Yet, they don’t complain.

They don’t hold placards or lead marches because they are too busy surviving from one day to the next.

Yes, they have earned my respect. They are perhaps much stronger than I am. I am grateful to have a home, education, work and a loving family. But, I salute these #IndiasDaughters for their courage and fortitude. For them life is survival. Fighting it out and living from day to day to better the lot of their daughters and sons. They #MakeItHappen.

Linking to Blog-A-Rhythm’s International Women’s Day #Makeithappen Link Up 2015



51 Thoughts on “When survival is life

  1. Rachna, I totally agree with you. Our maids have really got some of the saddest stories. Most of them are illiterate and not even aware of Govt benefits that they have. They slog through superstitions and rituals and still barely survive. Compared to them, we are really enjoying life. A good read.

  2. Indeed that is the story of most maids. I don’t know who is responsible for their fate or how they can be helped. Like the maid at our home spent borrowed money and spent 2 Lakhs on the marriage of her daughter. She got her sons and daughter educated. But that doesn’t seem to have made much difference. All 3 children used to sit at home and eat doing no work till the daughter got married and went away. Then one of the sons found some girl he wanted to marry and asked his mother to spend similar amount and get him also married. Luckily her husband had passed away when she was young itself and she did not have to put up with him as well.
    The Fool recently posted…A Leonine Tale – The Legend of BaikaduMy Profile

    • I am also struggling with the same questions. I help with the education of their children. Yes, marriages and other functions are completely draining them out. Yes, some of the kids are good for nothing as well. Really very tragic their lives. Sometimes I wonder how they stay positive.

  3. Yes, indeed. These are the real heroes that are making things better for their children, one day at a time. Never giving up the struggle, never grumbling, simply changing things bit by bit through their hard work and persistence. It is such a wonderful co-incidence that you wrote this post today. Yesterday I was thinking of the struggles that this couple who work for us go through to raise their three kids. Maybe someday I will write about them, but for now let me just say that I am truly inspired to see how both the husband and wife work so very hard to provide the best possible education to their three children, two sons and a daughter. A great post, Rachna!
    Beloo Mehra recently posted…India’s Daughters: They Make it HappenMy Profile

  4. “They don’t hold placards or lead marches because they are too busy surviving from one day to the next.” … So true. Every day every women is busy surviving. And that itself is a busy job na?
    Sheethal recently posted…Letter to You All …My Profile

  5. True. These women know how to survive despite such struggles and abuse. My maids over the years have had similar experiences. It is inspiring to see how they have made peace with the adversities of life and learnt to let go and face the challenges boldly.
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  6. Sometimes I wonder how hard their lives are and still they keep fighting and smiling..It makes me wonder about my silly struggles…My maid has so many problems you know Rachna but every single day when I open the door she’s there with a bright smile on her face…She’s a fighter and I salute her, more like her …
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  7. Some of these women are super women, multitasking, working hard, enduring everything silently. Unsung heroines, truly.

  8. Infact most of our maids are stronger and more determined than us 🙂 I admire my maid a lot for her courage and determination, when she was beaten black and blue by her drunken husband she had the courage to thrash him back in front of his relatives and yet still continue living with him for sake of the society She toils from morning 8 till 6 in the evening just to send her daughter to a good college in hopes of uplifting their quality of living … Hope so atleast the next generation sees a upheaval of these #Indiasdaughters
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  9. Very well written post. They certainly are tenacious and resigned to their fate. Let’s hope that their daughters and sons have a better fate. And perhaps we can hold the placards and lead marches for them.
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  10. When the time of survival comes, a woman can display such strength and courage that it surprises me. I have met women similar to your maid. I, sitting on my comfy bed, can never imagine what it’s like to be out there. They fight reality, every single day.
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  11. Very nicely written about the plight of maids and their alcoholic husbands.In most cases they get beaten,their money snatched and brutally used.The reason given for continuing this relationship has been explained admirably well.Educating their daughters and providing economic independence should bring about welcome changes in their lives
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  12. Sulekha on March 9, 2015 at 6:51 pm said:

    Reading about the hardships in their lives, our problems seem so petty, right? My maid has sent her 3 kids to Calcutta to her in-laws place so that she and her husband can work here in Delhi and save money to educate their kids. My maid wants her daughter to study and not get married at an early age.

    • That’s really wonderful of your maid, Sulekha. My current maid has sent her elder daughter to be with her mother in her village. She is enrolled in the school there. She finds it hard to manage two children, a husband and her work without any help. I try to help her in my own way.
      Rachna recently posted…When survival is lifeMy Profile

  13. janu on March 9, 2015 at 8:39 pm said:

    My sentiments exactly. We make every trivial thing huge, where as they stride over every huge issue as if trivial. I have a lot of respect for these women because they never stop.

    • It makes me feel so guilty, Janu, sometimes when I am cribbing about something trivial and I see her with an injury on her face. :/ It is a hell sometimes for her but she carries on with great fortitude. I feel helpless that I can’t do more for her.
      Rachna recently posted…When survival is lifeMy Profile

  14. I empathize with most of them, Rachna. Like you said, compared to them we have a cushy homes and lives. But if they come out from abusive marriages, it’s only going to be even worse than that…so many stick there and strive to do their best. Reminds me of the all the maids old and young and why they had to work so hard.

  15. We could learn a thing or two about survival and how to face our hardships from them. A very apt post to salute these ‘indispensable’ people in our lives, Rachna.
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  16. Beautiful post, rachna. As always you have driven home such a valid point. My salutes to these ever so strong daughters of India!
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  17. It is so difficult to see them suffer, is it not? My maid is a strong woman, who chose to adopt a girl who was being beaten by her own mother. This, after my maid has two sons of her own and an invalid husband who had an accident last year. In her place, would I have done the same or do I live in my shell of grumbling? Perspective really matters. It’s so true. Thank you for presenting this in the right light, Rachna.
    Shailaja recently posted…Hands free- A life lessonMy Profile

    • What you have written is what I do often. I wonder. And, I fall short. Frankly, I doubt if I could have a positive attitude and live my life with so much fortitude when everything seems so grim. It helps me feel grateful for what I have and also have some empathy in my behavior towards them. I also help them in their kids’ education and in other ways but I did not want to touch upon that in this post. This post is about them and how strong they are. Thanks so much for reading.
      Rachna recently posted…Start a new life… professionallyMy Profile

  18. Sad! I often…… words don’t come out of me in these situations. It’s easy for me to write a philosophical post but to feel what they are really feeling is very frightening 🙁
    Ravish Mani recently posted…Arjun: Without A DoubtMy Profile

    • I agree, Ravish. It is easy to talk than to live under those circumstances. I share your fear as well as deep sorrow. My intent in writing this post is to highlight their struggle. Perhaps, some of us can enable them then or even help them out in the education of their children. That is what I do. I guess, we have to be more mindful about the people around us and their misery to help bring about change. Thanks for reading.
      Rachna recently posted…Start a new life… professionallyMy Profile

  19. Recently my maid is suffering domestic abuse too! Remember once I mentioned about being unsure about applying my own values on Child Labor – comes to putting her daughters to work in households – on her? THIS is why – our value systems blindly applied on people living a totally different life can end up causing more harm than good.
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  20. A lot of food for thought, here. Everybody has his or her own issues, whatever strata they belong to. Don’t we all know stories of well-off people who are going through all kinds of struggles. I love how you ended the post on that positive note. It makes us want to be thankful for the good things in our lives. And learn a thing or two from these stories.
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    • I agree, Divya. At least ours aren’t existential issues. I mean imagine living hand to mouth with unsupportive families. That requires so much courage.

  21. This is a very thoughtful post. Some of the struggles that they face on a daily basis, makes some of my troubles look trivial. We take so much for granted- cozy house, loving family, healthy kids. Kudos to these #IndiasDaughters who inspire others by their strength and determination.
    Shantala recently posted…DO NOT TREAT YOUR DAUGHTER LIKE YOUR SONMy Profile

  22. Life is extremely tough for a very large poulation especially women of our country and what you highlighted is just the tip of the iceberg! The solutions are not easy to find except education and change in our soco econmic conditions besides beliefs and conditioning!

  23. When it comes to women, a whole lot of them are fighting against odds in our country…Very few come to light though…They all inspire us in some way…
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  24. It’s easy for us to sermonize but when it’s a question of survival, it really is better that we be silent and sinply offer whatever help we can to such brave souls!
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  25. Exactly! And for that to happen, we have to be aware and emphatic towards their struggles. That is what I wanted to highlight.
    Rachna recently posted…Start a new life… professionallyMy Profile

  26. I know of so many maids who support their entire family. It is really a sad situation. I think the women in the lower starta are much more stronger in India. After a while they just think about earning for their family without caring for emotions. It takes a lot of courage to do that.
    The Girl recently posted…Talking about our SonMy Profile

  27. We live a life of luxury, dont we. Even for us to call ourselves ‘feminists’ and fight for women’s rights. Because as you rightly said, there’s such a vast majority of women who are all fighters out there but they just don’t have the time for anything other than survival.
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