Sunday, 20 February 2011

Finding Help

When I first moved to Bangalore with three-month old Adiv, all I wanted was a good maid and a good pediatrician. I got lucky with the pediatrician, but I'm yet to find that "good" maid. I've had many in the last three years; a cheerful gossip who frequently took days off (but made some very palatable food), the quiet giant who breezed in and out without a word, a timid mouse who wanted so badly to please, a wannabe beautician who knew no cooking, a loud hag who muttered threats at Adiv, and finally a nanny-turned-housekeeper who charged a bomb. They didn't last for various reasons. Some made rare appearances, some didn't know their job, some didn't do too well, and some thought they could start calling the shots. However, what they did have in common was a displeasure of having a mistress who didn't go out to work. All of them suggested politely (and impolitely) that I leave Adiv with them and venture out. Leaving the house meant, they got to do as they pleased, and sadly for them I wasn't going to leave my baby with any of them.

The first one who made some delicious food soaked in generous helpings of oil, was good with Adiv. She played fun games that had him laughing hysterically. But being the paranoid mom, I wasn't sure I liked the idea of putting him incharge of someone who didn't change everyday. I wasn't even comfortable with her cooking, because I wasn't sure if she was bathing atall. Sometimes she wore the same saree for a week, and once she even came in wearing a nightdress. "Too lazy to change", she giggled and walked in. She wasn't reliable, and went missing for 13 days. By the time she returned (without any apologies), I had replaced her.

The quiet woman who replaced her didn't say much except when she was protesting.
"Do I have to sweep under the rug?"
"Do I really need to sweep and wipe the balconies?"
When Adiv's feet began showing tell-tale signs of how well she was sweeping, I sent her off.

Then came a family (in turns). The daughter ambled from room to room with a broom, as if gentle caressing the floor. She soon left for greener pastures (baby sitting for a child who'd be home alone), leaving her sister here. Her sister, a cheerful young girl with sparkly eyes, did pretty decent work, but she complained about the food I gave her from time to time.
"This isn't how you make it Didi."
"More oil Didi"
"We don't make upma like this Didi."
Eventually when I told her the food wasn't part of the deal and that she shouldn't complain when it was given, she left in a huff. Her loud-mouthed mother came next with tales of how her daughter had stopped work because her husband who had given up work so he could live off (drink) her. I didn't mind as long as I had help. She seemed okay, except that she made elaborate displays of cleaning the walls and the floors when I was in the room. Soon I also noticed that she disliked Adiv. She blamed him for running across the room when she was sweeping, and tugging at the clothes that were being put out. When I finally heard her yell threats at him (he ofcourse giggled innocently) I sent her off.

During that time I had a cook who was a wannabe beautician who was well-dressed and came to work wearing makeup. When she started work, I knew I couldn't really sit around with umcombed hair, wearing a pair of tracks and an old tshirt. She was a nice girl who needed the money. Sadly she didn't know any cooking. When her family decided to get back to Manipur (their home town) for the sake of their kids, I was able to say "Bye" without the guilt of having sent off someone who needed the money.

Soon afterwards, I had a woman who seemed matronly and kind. She made good food, and her work was good. She was gentle and soft spoken. I tried to hold on to her with generous amounts of food that she could take home from time to time. I believed that if she was also happy, I'd be able to keep her. All was well, till guests showed up on weekend. "Too much work", she said and walked out, without any warning! I wept later, because I was angry at myself. I'd been trying to please her into staying by helping out with all the chores.

Luckily after her came a gentle, mousy woman who'd never stepped out of her house before. She was sincere and willing to learn. Unfortunately, when my grieving mother-in-law moved in with us, we needed someone who'd be home for the entire day, because I would be out driving Adiv to school, waiting around and then bringing him back. This lady, though willing to learn, couldn't cook. So I had to let her go, and replace her with a fancy, super-efficient, super-expensive maid.

This last maid was a nanny once, with some experience overseas. She was a deligent worker and a willing learner. She did all the work, and the money we paid her seemed worth it, though it was way above what anyone was getting in this area. She did all that was expected of her, and I was generous with food and presents for her daughter. It was an easy relationship, but familiarity had to breed contempt. After a year in our house, she began thinking she could call the shots. She reduced her work hours to half (even though the salary had increased), and began taking time off to "rest"! She argued she needed 3/4 days a month to rest, in addition to the Sundays she got. She even began refusing chores saying, "I'll do it another day. Today I'm busy." Her excuses for not coming ranged from "I'm tired" to "My daughter didn't wake up early this morning." When I threatened her with a pay cut, she said she needed time to think about whether she wanted to continue. She called after a week, chatting pleasantly, and asking when she could start again. By then I'd had enough, so I decided to say bye!

This was a month ago, and the hunt for a replacement continues. While many have come and agreed to the terms, noone has started work yet. Sometimes I wonder if the last maid is fabricating tales to drive away hopefuls, just so I am forced to call her back.

This is the plight that many of us share. We struggle to find good help, and make futile attempts to keep them. A week ago someone I met was frantically washing up some of the vessels, so her servant wouldn't be angry at the amount of vessels. I know people who entice maids with TV watching and other perks. We are so dependant on them, and the biggest mistake some us make is letting them think they are indispensible. In the last month I've found that they aren't. I'm optimistic. I've got into the routine of cooking and doing the household chores, when Adiv takes his afternoon nap. In the morning I drive him to school, and wait outside with a book (Iris Murdoch at the moment). I'm busier, and hoping to be fitter. But my fingers remain crossed, as I wait for someone who will last.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

To the movies

I love going to the movies! I enjoy standing in queues for tickets and the anticipation of finally being able to see stories come alive on a big screen. When I was younger, the theatre experience wasn't as "fancy" as it is now. We didn't walk into well-lit, air-conditioned lounges to buy tubs of buttered popcorn and drinks, before being led into a clean movie hall. Then, we went to threatres that we knew (and hoped) were clean, ignoring the discomfort of the chairs, focussing only on the thrill of seeing the curtains come up. I didn't even mind the government sponsored films on development that were showed before the movie began. During the break, we'd saunter into the lobby, buy ourselves Thumbs-up and popcorn. Now there are queues of people who can't quite decide if they want the tortilla chips or the popcorn or the chicken and coleslaw sandwich. Nonetheless, I like that we are in surroundings that are cleaner than it used to be. While we buy these goodies and wait in the lounge, we're only mildly aware of a small group of workers streaming in to clean the hall. Once they are done, we are let in. A few advertisments later, the movie has begun, and we are hooked.

I've always been a movie buff, and I was no snob as far as the genre went. I enjoyed Govinda's slapstick, Rajinikanth's theatrics and romantic comedies, as much as I enjoyed Kurosawa, Majid Majidi and Kieslowski. I loved the song and dance routine, as much as I loved a good story that made me think and cry. If people thought I watched too many movies as a child, they weren't very surprised when I chose to study film in college. Though I didn't pursue a career in films, I still continued to watch them.
Much of this movie watching came to a halt after Adiv's birth. Despite our initial attempts at watching films in theatres, we soon gave up. Adiv would watch wide-eyed for 10 minutes, and soon begin his explorations. So much of the time, one of us was standing outside with him, while the other watched inside feeling a wee bit guilty. So from them on, it was only DVDs for us. We got them as soon as they were out (Ro even bought many of them during his travels abroad), and watched them in the confines of our home, while Adiv was either sleeping or busy playing with his cars.

Then two weeks ago, I did something I hadn't done before; I went for a movie alone. Fairly independant, I'd done several things on my own. I'd eaten in restaurants on my own, I'd travelled alone, I'd shopped alone, I'd spent entire days in the British Library alone etc etc. Nonetheless, watching a movie on my own didn't feature in my list of favorite activities. I preferred company when I watched a movie, because if I enjoyed anything more than a movie, it the prospect of discusssing it (read: Ripping it apart) after it was over. So if I went alone, I was denying myself that experience.
However, this time I couldn't depend on Ro (he was needed to babysit Adiv) and my plans to see the film were sudden. I finished cooking lunch, changed and rushed out. I was going to see "Biutiful"; a film I knew nothing about. I knew it had two Oscar nominations and I'd seen a lot of Javier Bardem's work previously, to know that he'd be nothing less than brilliant. So I drove myself to the mall, parked (tough task on a weekend when the entire world is in the malls), and went to the ticket counter. The man at the counter was chatty.
"It's a spanish movie", he said.
"I know. I want one ticket."
"But it has english subtitles", he added.
"I know."
Eventually he gave me my ticket. I walked in with a small group of people (the only few who wanted to see Biutiful) and waited for the movie to begin. The theatre was fairly empty. In the theatre were two other people who'd come alone as I had. There was one group that seemed as serious about the film. Two other men were merely enjoying the airconditioning. So they were already snoring gently at the back. Three girls chatted and giggled incessantly till someone gave them an irritable "shush". Then there were two couples who chose the back row to cootchie-coo! Once all of us had found our places, the movie began.
As predicted, the movie was well-acted, though a tad bit too depressing. Javier Bardem was brilliant as a father who shuttled between Chinese sweatshop owners, illegal african street hawkers, his kids, and an ex-wife who was bipolar. He also made some money by passing on messages from the dead to the bereaved, so he could provide for his kids after his time. He was dying. Despite all this, the film focussed on goodness and all that was beautiful in the human soul. Uxbal, the man he played is good and willing to make a difference.
In the darkness, wearing my cloak of anonymity, I cried! There were no disturbances. Adiv didn't need his water or feel the need to wander away. I was in the movie, and I felt every emotion.
So with "Biutiful" began a new experience; the experience of watching a film alone, in a theatre with a group of strangers. Though I still missed discussing it afterwards, Ro was kind enough to listen to my narration of the storyline (I don't mind that either). Now, before I rush off to school, I'm planning my next outing for the weekend; The Fighter maybe? Rabbit hole?