Following on the theme of my last post, having household help is very common in India. Every middle-class household has at least a maid who comes to do chores like sweeping, washing the floors and laundry. Some also have cooks, nannies and drivers. I know some households that have more staff working in their house than family members!
Of course for foreigners, it’s a huge luxury to have household help. I have an aunt who’s fascinated by this. Every time I see her, she asks me the same questions:
“So you’re not allowed to work in India?”
“But you have a lady who comes to do the cleaning?”
“And you take your laundry to get ironed by a man in the street?” (She’s surprised that this is a man’s job!)
“And who does the cooking? You? Well at least you do something!”
She’s also surprised that my household help comes three times a week – which is a bare minimum in India – but for my aunt it seems excessive. “Why so often?!” she asks. I try to explain to her how dusty it gets, especially in the summer. By the afternoon I can already see a thin layer of dust that’s settled on the tile floor. That’s why most people get their floors swept and washed every single day.
Savitri has worked for us for the past four years. I feel very lucky to have her. It’s not easy to find good household help. “It’s easier to find a good husband than a good maid,” seems to be a popular saying here.
Indeed a lot of my friends complain endlessly about their maids. “She’s gone to her village for a week. How will I manage?” is a common complaint. When I tell them that in the ‘West’ women manage the cooking, cleaning, kids and a full-time job, they look amazed. “Ayoo! Poor things! How do they cope with no help?”
I also hear all kinds of stories. When a friend got a new maid, her sugar supply started mysteriously disappearing. Another asked for a loan and then disappeared. (A common occurrence.) Another became more and more demanding, continuously asking for raises and ultimately a scooter!
Savitri has never been to school but she speaks four languages fluently: Kannada, Telugu, Tamil and Hindi. She’s always pleasant and cheerful and rarely misses work. If she doesn’t show up, I know it’s because of a good reason. The next time she’ll tell me why she couldn’t come: because she had fever, or because her grandchildren were visiting. She didn’t show up for two days last week but when she came on Saturday morning, she had some important news for me: her son is getting married. She seemed very happy and was wearing new gold earrings and had more green glass bangles on her wrists than usual. Her son is the last of her three children to get married.
When she finished her work this morning she told me that she won’t come for a week because of the wedding preparations. I sensed her excitement and happiness and know she’ll be busy preparing for this important event. But one week! Ayoo, how will I manage?!