Saga of the overrated domestic help…

I recently read about a survey which says that a whopping 87% of women in India feel stressed all the time. India tops the list of countries which were ranked on percentage of women who were stressed. Guess what? Yours truly admits frankly that she is right there on the top! Sitting pretty in that 87% statistic.

When we planned our big R2I from USA, one of the high points to look forward to was domestic help. I had decided I will not raise one finger to do household chores. I will employ a maid and a cook and use my time for better things! Here, I should mention that I never felt stressed there. I and my hubby split housework and childcare. We managed our jobs, cooking, cleaning, kids, and found time for a walk in the park, and some snuggly cozy TV time before bed. Every day. But still, we always discussed how great it would be to have some affordable help on a daily basis, so we could do other things.

Now, 5 years down the line, this “domestic help” issue is a major cause of pain in the ass for me, time and again. And I know I am not alone. During my usual walk by the tot-lot in our community, this is the single biggest issue being discussed by all other lady friends. If you have a reliable domestic help – you are truly, truly blessed! Hold on to her for dear life!

I know the men folk out there will pooh pooh this as petty. But trust me. If the lady of your house is giving you a hard time – it is likely more because of the maid than PMS. Dear hub will agree. And sympathize. He has been at the receiving end of my brunt lately. (P.S: To be a good husband, you also must be a sounding board and a punching bag!)

You may encounter any one of the following species of domestic workers:

The sloppy worker: No matter how much you train or communicate, she will never do a job right or complete it. Either you have to follow her close on her heel and keep giving instructions, or make your peace with jobs not done or half done. Eventually you will fire her or she will quit due to your nagging. Then you will pray to find one with an IQ at least 10 points higher than hers.

The attitude beeyatch: And you will find a smart one. Correction – over smart one. She will huff and puff when she comes into the house. She will be super efficient, and zoom around finishing the work faster than you can think what to cook for the day. You better be on your toes, better watch what you eat, and better keep everything ready for her or face her wrath! “Maddam, mere aane se pehle sab nikal ke rakho. Mera time mat washte karo!” (keep everything ready, don’t waste my time) “Maddam, do sabji kyon? Sab lok to ek hi sabzi khaate hai!” (Why cook two vegetable dishes? Other people have just one in a meal.) You will be terrified of her, and will not have the courage to ask her one simple extra chore on any day. She will be your master!

The yes woman – She will smile and say yes to every word of instruction you give without understanding or following it. This may happen if you live in a region where you cannot speak the local language. It is worthwhile for you to invest in a sign language class. You and the maid should attend together. And more power to you to keep your sanity.

The vanishing lady – When you need her the most, like when there are guests in the house, she will disappear faster than you can blink! “Maddam, tabiyat kharab thi.” (I got sick) No awards for good work ethics in this household. She may also do periodic vanishing acts, and when will return suddenly like a comet after a few days, when you start contemplating a replacement.

The tragedy queen – The lady with a lot of baggage. She will be the Nirupa Roy of old Hindi cinema. She will bring a dark cloud into the house with her every day. You will feel sorry for her; help her in each and every way, in cash and in kind. You will feel guilty if you ask her to complete her daily chores. So on days when she doesn’t work because of her issues, you will end up finishing her work.

The man cook – One of my friends employed a man to do the cooking. Initially she was happy to be rid of excuses for no show like “pati ne maara”, “bacchha bimar hai”, “saans se zhagda hua”, (husband hit me, child is sick, Fight with MIL)et al. He would come, not speak, cook and go. But then, the problem she says “they don’t own the kitchen”. I hear ya on that one dear!

Irrespective of the type of the help, your tolerance levels on any tantrums thrown at you are directly proportional to your desperation levels to retain this worker. If you are desperate, you dare not upset her. Be thankful for each day if she turns up for work.

Nevertheless, they are indeed the lifeline. And they are only human.

We may not ask the hubby if he wants tea or ensure every day that he is well fed, but we will make sure that the house help has her daily cup of chai and breakfast, lunch when required, medicine when she is not well, sympathy and caring words when she comes beaten by the drunk husband, clothes and sweets for her children and grand children, weekly off, and paid leaves to go to her hometown, extra pay for extra work, bonuses during festivals. I do believe in all that. I think it is fair. They suffer a lot, and have a harder life.

In spite of everything, after a certain period something goes wrong, and the divorce happens. You will feel sad and bitter; you will think that they don’t value your relationship, and that you invested too much in them, the blah! All in vain.

I realized today after losing a good worker due to her personal issues, that our dependence on the help is only if we make it one. So here I am – in search of another person who can look after my house, cook for my family, so I can go out and work peacefully, assured that we will all return to a clean house and food on the table after a hard workday. Until then, dear hubby says – ‘don’t worry, I will make scrambled eggs and toast, and you make rice!’ So be it. I will enjoy cooking when I can, and take shortcuts when I can’t.

The article says that in spite of women in India having an easy access to domestic help, the stress levels rise as they have to juggle modern careers, households and traditional familial interfaces. The support system has not really developed around the advanced workplaces at the same pace. Reliable help is hard to find and retain. Is organization of this sector the answer, for the benefit of both the service providers and consumers? Will their happiness result in ours? There is a huge demand in urban areas for domestic workers with different skill levels, why isn’t this industry getting mature?

There are some good examples of a workable system in developed countries. For example, the molly maid service in US, or the contractual live in help in Hong Kong. We too need a framework which guarantees continuous and sustainable support to both parties based on mutual trust and satisfaction. Organized service industry may mean paying a bit more for consumers, but then the service providers are assured good working conditions, healthcare, canteen/mess facilities and child support. We in return get quality workers who are continuously reliable and accountable.

Sigh. I know. that is not India, its Utopia.

The fallout from lack of help is mostly borne by the woman who has shifted into the new role for both financial and personal empowerment. Empowered we feel, of course. We take pride in being the superwoman. Capable of doing it all. We want a good job with a good pay. We want recognition, and satisfaction at work. We want a nice perfect house. We want our kids’ time, to help them to excel and gear up for the rat race. We want to care for the elderly and the family. We want to plan our vacations. Splurge on shopping. And we don’t want to burn out doing all of this.

How? If only there was an immediate simple answer.

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4 Responses to Saga of the overrated domestic help…

  1. Anonymous says:

    Very well said…BTW even in India there are bunch of agencies like US and Hong Kong and life becomes much better getting "trained domestic help" from these professional agencies…:)

  2. Anonymous says:

    I agree. You have been balanced in your entire post. And you have it right, we need to slow down and speed up, and take each day as it comes. When it all gets too much – just slow down. When things are going smooth – just speed up…For what, to where, and why, is what I ponder about and I think so should you … I am sure you are. More power to you.

  3. Aruna says:

    just read this post Poornima. Really hilarious and so well said. loved it..

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