Saturday, June 28, 2008


I know this may sound preposterous and pre-historic to anybody who does not live in our part of the world. But for those who do, especially those with kids or jobs or both, will understand how our entire life is maid-dependent. That’s to say, the peace and pattern of our existence (and many times, the progress of our careers) depend upon the ifs and buts, express-arrivals and explanation-less-absences of our maids.

As of this present moment, my sister-in-law is in a soup because one of her maids (they have a complicated system of checks and balances comprising ‘many maids, all-in-a-row’, devised in part by my mother) has upped and left, without any notice and with many lies and excuses. She has recently joined a new job (six-day week) and has two small kids (three and one year old), so obviously the domestic disarray has demolished the carefully built maths of her existence.

My neighbour, who has to leave for her teaching job at 6 in the morning (and whose live-in maid has also left without a bye-your-leave), is having sleepless nights and pre-dawn hysterics, waiting for the stand-in help to arrive before sunrise so that she can run to catch the train to reach her school by the morning bell.

Maids rule, period. Eavesdrop on any conversation involving working moms, and you are sure to listen to complaints about their maids (when they are there) or condolences (when they have left). Maids do not come on time, maids do not come at all, maids go AWOL interminably, yet mysteriously and quarrelsomely turn up when you optimistically try to replace them. They are often tardy, oftener temperamental and, a few times (very few, to be honest) thieving. And if they do deign to come somewhat regularly, you’d better count your lucky stars and stop counting flaws and faults in their housework.

Some women are maid-lucky, they have trusted maids who are paragons of perfection and punctuality. Some are plain maid-unlucky, and spend a major portion of lives searching for, or training, or waiting for, or agonizing over, or searching again for…you get the drift? But maid-luck is as fickle as maid-mood (i.e. whether your maid is chirpy or grumpy) and all we can do is hope and pray that we are maid-for-each-other…and do the housework when they are AWOL. There is no maid-to-order solution, is there?


Anonymous said...

hmmm...its such a common thing in our homes...maids are almost becoming a part & parcel of our life & its interesting they all follow similar practices everywhere...these days its mainly we have to surrender to the whims of the maid.

ugich konitari said...

It gets a bit depressing :-) to keep saying "been there, done that"; but both my children went to a creche (in different periods), although my older was old enough to stay home when the younger went to the creche. Very lucky to have wonderful people who I am still in touch with, and we have shared each others highs and lows in life. The nice part is the children learn to be with other children fairly early in life, and some of them are now friends for life ....just my 2 paisa worth suggestion..

sukku said...

Wow what an experience I had with my live in maids, my first live in maid couple I had to fire within 30 minutes as he was stealing money from my room and I set a trap for him by placing my money (Rs 10,000 x 2 bundles) in my bag and place it in my cupboard so that I can catch him red-handed after losing my money previously but had no proof, after 3 days of placing the bait, the rat finally took a few notes on one bundle and a couple more in another bundle. When I counted the bundle, I knew who the rat was and terminated him in 30 minutes otherwise I told him that I would make a police complaint. After that my last live in maid, he was a thief alright, stole from my room and my office. And I raided his little house that I provided for him, just to find all my stuff, even my samsung blue tooth he didn't spare. After kicking him out, I found out that he had stolen a used notebook from my office too. Anyway thank God I kicked him out as in the bungalow I stayed, he was my servant and my driver and he wanted me to stop my security guards as he told me that he can take over that job too. I thank my lucky stars that I got rid of him, otherwise maybe he would have poisoned me and taken his own sweet time to clear my office and residence.

Anyway now I am staying in a place in Sainikpuri where I don't need to have a live in maid, so a lady comes over for 2 hours in the morning to do the job, but I do feel a little quessy about a lady coming in to my place, one never knows what these maids are capable off....lodge a false report at the nearest police station.....but knowing the risk, I am still taking it as it is difficult to be without a maid in India.......

SwAtI said...

Hey Sucharita!!

How have you been?
Thanks for your comments on d blog.. I jst took a bit too much time to get bak..
'Maid for each other'... heheh.. funny!! :) m pretty much aware of the maid woes..coz maid trouble spells trouble(work) for me..

Lucky are those who find a good house help..

Sucharita Sarkar said...

flying stars,

I totally agree with you about maid-dictators and their whims!

Ugich konitari,

I went the creche route when only the elder one was there, but with two kids and a job which takes me out of the house at 6.45 am (at which time both kids and their daddy are blissfully asleep) I have to have a live-in maid to take up the reins of the household when I'm not there. BTW, my maid's an angel, and I truly value her support.


You've had a truly awful time with the house sympathies.



Mina Jade said...

I feel sorry for the maids :-) Maybe their lives and work aren't the easiest ones.
Yes, it must be nice to have someone to help at home, but it would be a bit strange to have someone in our home to share all our life.

sukku said...

Sucharita@Wow my problems would be over soon and by the end of next week I am getting out of Hyderabad and heading for home.

Mina Jade@ you have a point there...but somehow I guess it is a little different in India...culturally and I am sure Sucharita would be able to elaborate this to you.....

Sucharita Sarkar said...

Mina and sukku,

I know it seems weird to have a live-in maid if you are not culturally conditioned, but despite the lack of privacy (which I try to compensate by giving my maid off-days whenever I have holidays), in India they are often indispensable. And you are also right about their poverty, which is why they come to work as maids, but then the only practical thing we can do about is to not take in under-age maids and not to underpay them, which is what most of us try to do anyway!

Mina Jade said...

I see that, and of course it is good to have someone to help.

In our former regime - there was communism or rather socialism here in Hungary for 40 years until 1989 - communists always claimed it is hard to be a maid (not as if communist regime would be that great or free).
I don't know anyone who have maids to live in their house, only some people to have women or men to go there one or two days in a week and helps to work in the garden or cooks something.
But my father's parents have an old employed, she helps them sometimes, and they are strict with her (her life is very hard, she drunks, she is very poor. I feel sorry for her).

Otherwise, being an employed of anyone, is the same as if you were a maid, even if you have an intellectual job. It is not good to depend on someone. (As you will see in my story, some of my former friends and employers misleaded me in a disgusting way.) That is why I would like to work on my own :-)

Nancy said...

Your post was so interesting. It seems to me that your maid-situation resembles that in big cities in the U.S. in the late 19th century, or in any society where a huge population and a fast-improving economy meant that relatively low-paid and unskilled workers could always move on to other things, fast. The demise of the household servant is fairly recent in the West -- perhaps since World War II. It may be inevitable in India, too, and perhaps you are just coping with the beginning of the end. The British novelist Angela Thirkell has her characters remark on this new "American" idea that women should do their own work, plus raise their children -- another job entirely, in the typical pre-war upper-middle class household!

By coincidence, last weekend I went "antiquing" and I found an old object, a heavy porcelain bell-shaped ornament, with fringe, hanging on a silk cord. It was labeled "blue ceramic cup tassel" by an antique dealer who clearly didn't recognize it. It's a bell-pull... to ring for the (vanished) servants.

Sucharita Sarkar said...

thanks mina / nancy,

for such insightful glimpses into your own cultures and value-systems. But I feel that with the huge population of the unskilled poor in Indian cities, the maids will be there for a long time to come, though they may become more professional and have bureaus and agencies to negotiate for them. There are many such agencies, but not enough to meet the demand.

tina said...

the situation in the philippines is quite the same... ^^; my mother has long given up on hiring maids; they were a major source of consternation for her while my brothers and i were growing up, for the same list of complaints as you mentioned. only one maid was worthy of her praise, and that was the one who cared for me when i was a baby. unfortunately for all of us, an old lecher living next door took a liking to her; after dating her for some months, he promised to marry her and sent her back to her home province to get her things. my mother was unable to dissuade her, and she disappeared. it seems my mother has long been resigned to being maid-unlucky. :)