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.
The Imaginary Apple
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