Women and their bais ‘Calm-waali’

The wall clock strikes at the appointed time and the hostess’ heart begins to sink as her eyes begin to flicker between the front gate and her moving screen.

“Am I calling in sick for work or taking a leap of faith?” she has to decide. The predicament is best conjectured in the lyrics of the old Hindi song, “Zara si aahat hoti hai toh dil sochta hai, kahin ye wo to nahin.” A similar scene plays out in most Indian homes with the day of the hostess which unfolds with the familiar nagging uncertainty: “Is she okay, is she? which defines the fundamental and fragile relationship she has with her maid.

The “maid of honor”

For most Indian women, “bridesmaid” is high on their priority list, right after their children. At almost every party, women start by talking about their children’s shenanigans, and within minutes the conversation switches to their maids. Now, sharing juicy neighbor gossip and criticizing your in-laws are outdated conversation lubricants.

It was at one such party that a woman was overheard telling her friend that she treated her maid more royally than any member of her family, and although she oiled her chappatis with refined oil, she generously added a dollop of desi ghee for the maid, and always remembered to add extra milk in her tea.

A few days ago, my maid didn’t show up for work unannounced. When I asked why she didn’t tell me, she waved her hands and said, “I wanted to let you know. But, you see, my phone was weak. Immediately, I asked my daughter to add a “recharge” to her phone.

The turn of the century has witnessed many changes, especially in lifestyle, thanks to the invasion of technology in our daily affairs. About 20 years ago, when I visited a family member in the nation’s capital, I experienced what I can now call “culture shock”.

The new-age maid

The domestic helper who came to clean the house, effortlessly wielded the “wielding weapon” of her art – a sweeping broom – in one hand, and the epitome of the modern gadget of the time – a cell phone from qwerty style – in the other. His nonchalant multitasking style was certainly impressive. The trend, over the years, has certainly caught up with our small town maids too.

The other day, while I was passionately engrossed in writing a few thoughts, the sharp, loud ringing of a cell phone disrupted my reverie. The ringtone certainly belonged to my phone, but as I rushed to get it, I realized it wasn’t my phone that was ringing. The housekeeper’s resounding “hello” echoed through the lobby as I closed my eyes to register the fact that I was no longer the elite or exclusive owner of that company’s device or bell. Do I feel egalitarianism?

All in all, the fact remains that despite technology acting as a great leveler in society, our reliance on maids has multiplied and their job profile has become multiple, now ranging from nanny to caretaker, cook, cleaner and so on. The growing addiction has also brought with it the growing realization that their peripheral presence dominates the centrality of our existence. Perhaps that’s why an ad for a domestic help provider proudly said, “Diamonds are useless! Give your wife a maid. After all, jo biwi know a lot kare pyaar

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The author is Associate Professor at SD College, Ambala Cantt

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