When I heard that member couple of our Gymkhana Club took to a Retired People’s Home like ducks to water when their maid of several years standing abandoned them, I gasped with disbelief. Confronted with the topic of “maids” at every social gathering, I used to be glad that I didn’t have any complaints to air. However, quite recently when my own faithful maids moved to an inconvenient distance, and regretfully gave in their notice, I realised how corroding our dependency on domestic help could be.
Worst hit when I was hospitalised, the household just didn’t function.. And to come home to dust and disarray was a chilling prospect. Our whole lives change when the maids quit, without a by your leave. For one who prided herself on holding her maids ad infinitum I have had the largest turnover in the last three months, sometimes at the rate of one every two days despite trying every trick in the book. The fastidiousness of sticking to a pecking order, what to clean when, and giving those inaccessible corners a lick with extra soap and water, and changing water for swabbing with every room have all gone with the wind. You have to pretend the cobwebs don’t exist unless they hang like seaweed in long dusty tendrils. The bathrooms don’t get an extra wipe, and if you slip ma’am that’s your lookout, ....you see you have to be careful. Pay scales have sky rocketed, and admittedly the cost of living has gone up. You are willing to pay for it but it does not meet with their expectations. The women demand wages by the hour often bordering on the ridiculous.
There are some working maids who, loth to work in your home produce a stream of women you could interview and ultimately engage. You wonder why they are so obliging till the maid herself tells you that the procurer is an unofficial agent. One woman took umbrage at my asking her if she was an agent, but all the same she said she did expect a generous tip for her helpful spirit.
The characters I got are worth fleshing out for future use in a forthcoming play or a novel. Mops are of course in and if you as much dare suggest they wipe the floor with a nice swab cloth, they look at you as if you are demented. I have a collection of mops in my broom cupboard as each maid likes her own brand. No use adding Lysol or cleaner to the bucket of water, as it is only one dip and the entire house is swabbed with it.
The cutest of maids I have had is The Duo, who defy any suggestions of Hindu-Muslim differences. Rajeshwari is a staunch Hindu, and Shakila a dyed in the wool Muslim. They would only work as a pair, one for cooking and one for the cleaning work. “How can you employ a Muslim?” ask some orthodox friends. “Arent they human beings? And when I preach about secularism in my writing there cannot be any duplicity, I have to set the trend...” I say a tad defensively. Shakila a giggly young woman with flowers dripping all over her sari would arrive in a burqa which she would carefully remove in the privacy of my utility assisted by her friend Rajeshwari. It didn’t matter that the cook got paid a higher salary. They would share their earnings equally. They worked as a team and left for home together. The Duo lasted only for three whole days. When Shakila injured her ankle, Rajeshwari was with her nursing her in hospital! When one was absent the other would take off as well. That was the end of the conjoined twins as far as I was concerned.
Stay-at –home maids are dreams from the past, even if you have an elderly person at home who does not require nursing, just someone to keep her company and attend to her needs. There are no takers despite an offer of a fat salary.
What is the solution? Take a leaf out of the book of your NRI children. Change your lifestyle. Resort to one dish meals. I have several recipes for meals in one. Reena could help us too! Stop entertaining at home. Why should you when you can relax at the club without having to sweat over preprations? Our home has always been “open house”..I even had house guests when I was convalescing. Forget it, close the door and never mind if your friends think you have suddenly become inhospitable. If they do they were not really your friends. Get over your paranoia for cleanliness and order. ( I am trying very hard believe me) And if you get the maid of your dreams, pamper her, increase her salary in fits and starts, and though you need to be firm, overlook her idiosyncrasies and whining.
Be on good terms with your watchman, and if need be your neighbour’s watchman and the roadside ironing people. This group is the richest source of producing maids or drivers. The catch however is that they will fix the salary and if it is as high as they can negotiate, they take a cut from the working woman! Being street smart is the key to survival, and it is a question of increasing demand and diminishing supply. Stop complaining and moaning, because we Indians are a pampered lot, who have been slowly stripped of the luxury of slaves. Accept the situation gracefully and revamp your life, though I know it is so so hard.
And last but not the least, if none of this works and you get worn out and nervous by the day and find your pressure rising, and you are a senior citizen, just seriously consider shifting to a retired peoples home. You won’t have to worry about housekeeping or cooking or looking for a maid to order...