Friday, January 14, 2011

Maid in Mumbai

Ya devi sarvabhuteshu shaktiroopen samasthita
namstasyai, namstasyai, namstasyai namo namah

(To the Divine Goddess who resides in all existence in the form of ‘shakti’
We bow to her, we bow to her, continually we bow to her)

"Ya devi sarvabhuteshu, shaktiroopen samasthita... namastasyayi namo namah...."

Well, this post is about the most important person in my life – yes, you guessed it right the first time - it’s my household help.

(Touches a chord, doesn’t it...?)

I start this with a homage to goddess Shakti – who seems to have decided to wreak havoc on us mere middle-class mortals. In the form of the ubiquitous maid – or, to be more politically correct, the household help.

The lengths we all go to, to appease them, is an indicator of the criticality of this person in our lives. Listing just a couple of the most atrocious things we, personally, have done... We drove one of them around to Reliance Digital and some other hip shops to shop for a new TV, because her husband had bought a new set for his ‘other’ wife, but not for her. Naturally, she had to have one too - at once. And naturally, the money had to come from us - at once.... And there was this other occasion, a long time back - when a long-time maid quit after an argument. Exactly 10 minutes after she walked off, I developed cold feet – and sent Sudarshan chasing after her... he pleaded with her and brought her back – in style, pillion riding on his bike.....!!

(Do share your ‘The ridiculous lengths I have gone to for a household help’ stories here too!)

But let me start at the beginning… Nowadays, all nuclear families in India are at grave risk of being hit by a ‘nuclear disaster’ – that is, being in an ‘utterly maid-less’ state. Last year, we were hit by one of epic proportions, when our household help - our woman-Friday, suddenly ditched us to turn entrepreneur. She was a good soul – though prone to making rather rash comments like “Bhabhiji, aaj bhaiya ko hots de doon kya?”... No, no, she was not being improper – it took me some time to figure out she only wanted to know whether or not Sudarshan wanted oats for breakfast... :)

Anyway, she left, and all hell broke loose almost immediately – the laundry cupboard door would not shut, it was so full, and the neighbourhood Reliance Fresh ran out of ready to eat parathas...

Desperate, I lurked behind trees and walls to waylay any passing household helps in the neighbourhood and try to lure them into my house. It didn’t work – maybe I was trying to too hard...

I even started calling on unsuspecting friends and neighbours - purportedly for a friendly chat, and then cornering their unsuspecting maids or cooks, with a shameless ‘Tumhare ghar mein maa behen nahi hai kya?’ Understandably, most of our friends stopped answering my calls!

The ‘maa-behen’ line almost worked, though – a few ‘maa’s and ‘behen’s did turn up for walk-in interviews. But none of them finally amounted to anything. We waited for one such promising ‘behen’ for one whole day – but she had simply gone missing. We feared she had eloped on the pretext of coming to our place. Finally, late in the evening, the missing ‘behen’ was located – she had been pinched by the alert Mumbai cops, travelling ticketless (and moneyless) on a local, and had spent the day cooling her heels at the station.

That marked the end of the 'maa- behen' approach...

We even gave up our long standing aversion for a ‘live-in’ arrangement. Having a live-in household help, I mean.

The first of the lot we tried was a Bengali mashima. Mashima, obviously on the wrong side of the fifties, claimed she was under forty. She claimed she woke early everyday, and would have no problem getting up at 6.30 AM to help make breakfast and pack Ananya off to school. The next day, we almost had to break the door of her room down at 8.30 AM to wake her....

She said she did not know how to cook our kind of meals, but would soon learn. She claimed she ate very little. For 3 days, I had to make 6 rotis for her at every meal...

Exit Mashima.

The next maid-on-trial came with a baggage – a one year old son. The lady spent 24 hours at our place. During this time, the boy consumed what seemed to me like 144 packets of biscuits at breakneck speed, and peed in every room of our house - as if on a mission to find the most suitable spot to construct a toilet in our house. The lady spent roughly 50% of her time cleaning up after the kid... and 40% trying to understand what we said (she did not speak Hindi) – which left her hardly any time for actual work...

Exit Maid-with-Kid.

We even talked to a placement agency which boasted of sending Bengali household helps - customised to a client’s needs, to any place in the world... but the price they quoted left me wondering whether I had unwittingly asked for an executive assistant rather than a household help.

Exit Household-help Export House.

Then finally, one day She just walked in. A Household Help who was clean and respectable in appearance, could cook and clean, and most importantly, was in dire need of a job.... The catch...? (tchh...there always is one, isn’t there?)... She had no papers, no identification, no recommendation.. Nothing. She had just landed up in Mumbai with her husband, from Bihar, and did not know a single soul in Mumbai.

Everybody, without exception, told me not to employ her. I employed her the very next day she applied. I really had no choice.

That was almost a year ago now. And a lot has passed since then – she has managed to captivate us with her culinary skills, we have nursed her and her family through several illnesses, Ananya is on back-slappping terms with her.... and we still have not been murdered in our beds...

As PG Wodehouse would have said, birds are singing in the sky and all is well with the world...  At least for now!

Now if you excuse me, I have to go discuss that salary hike which she has been demanding.....


  1. That was indeed an interesting writeup Suchi.

  2. Thanks, Surya... I guess it is a heartfelt issue ;)

    Do you have any related stories to share?

  3. Wow, that was abosolutely a great laugh - I relieved times from Palani to Ruma, we are where we started.
    Buth in the process discovered a budding spike mulligan in you? I think you should only "also" work on education - and spend more time in writing. I love the sketches - can recognise myself (:) there. The "Hots" was the best one.
    And by the way, your writings reveal that you are not as short of memory as you appear
    Now let us see one on yourself - high time too

    honestly this peice was just great

  4. Good one Suchi... I second Sudarshan... Never knew you had such skills in sketching. After reading Bhabhiji, aaj bhaiya ko hots de doon kya?”...I literally burst into laughter, which has made my friends also read the piece...

    Keep them coming!

  5. Great Suchi, I wonder if the issue would ever not be an issue. I third Sudarshan (already seconded !) on the sketch & memories.

  6. loved your write up,touched a chord indeed!!.Never knew about your caricature skills,too good.keep writing....loved the oats bit-you def have a great sense of humour!!so does sudarshan.:).

  7. This was great readsing...are U a professional blogger yet?

  8. Hahahhahah wow aunty!! lovely!

  9. Fabulous style. Ghar ghar ki kahani

  10. Very nice article. I recently wanted to hire a baby sitter in Mumbai. I came across many maid agencies in Mumbai but none of them were professionals. My friend recommend and I tried them. I think of all the agencies, they were the best maid agency in Mumbai. They find a maid in Mumbai in 2 days and she was highly experienced. I want to prevent other mothers and households to fall prey to the small crook agencies who take advance money and don’t give any service. was very professional and they kept working till I found the maid of my choice. Kudos. All the best