I just realised that just how many things, we in metros enjoying a respectable lifestyle, take for granted. One of the things in that list, as many women would agree with me, is the role our house helps and maids play in our chaotic lives. This is indeed a luxury that comes at a super affordable price. Ask some busy professional in the US, who conducts board meetings by the day and washes dishes by the night. Because, only the super affluent class there affords to hire house helps. But in India, we hire them at a price less than the meal for two would cost at any new-age restaurant.
In a city like Mumbai, where an average adult spends at least two hours travelling (in some cases people travel for about 5 hours daily) to and fro from work, having some kind of house help is indispensible. Otherwise, just how would an average women, who works for close to ten hours per day and travels for another two hours would manage to squeeze in everything in a day’s time. Just how much can she alone pack in, in a day? She wakes up when it’s still dark, rushes through her morning ablutions, prepares breakfast on one side and lunch on the other side for her family, wakes up the kids, dresses them up for school, packs their lunch, sends them to school, serves breakfast to her husband, tends to the needs of other elders in the family and quickly dresses up herself and dashes off to work. She puts in 10-11 hours chasing targets, meeting clients and meeting the requirements of a demanding job. After a tiring day at work, she also has to think about what to put on the dinner table, about kids’ homework, running pending errands and simultaneously fighting the guilt of not being able to do enough for her family. Not being a hands-on mom for her kids.
Not having any kind of domestic help to see her through the crazy day is unimaginable. The point I am trying to drive here is that we seldom acknowledge what an integral part our maids and house helps play in our lives and how much are we dependant on them for our own sanity. If our maids don’t turn up just one day, our entire calculated schedule goes for a toss. But how many times do we actually thank them for being our saviour? Forget being thankful, many people mistreat them, abuse them and misbehave with them. We forget that how handicapped we will be without their help.
My maid, Urmila, who comes in the afternoons to do the dishes and clean the house, is a really sweet woman. She is hardworking and committed. And poor. She is a mother of four tots who has to work her ass off in order to feed their little mouths. Needless to say, her husband is a good-for-nothing jerk who beats her, harasses her, pulls her by hair and comes home drunk every single day. He doesn’t earn a penny and lives off his poor wife’s earnings. He beats her black and blue if she denies him the money. Her children are petrified of him and he is no more than a liability on the family. A few days ago, she looked unusually quiet…because she is generally a warm chirpy woman. She quietly started doing the dishes but I could see her eyes were rimmed with tears. I asked her if everything was alright. And she could hold back her tears no longer. They started streaming down her face and she wept inconsolably. I offered her a glass of water and asked her to calm down. She wouldn’t say anything but I prodded her a bit. I was sure she only needed a little nudge to pour her heart out. She was crying because her body hurt. Her husband had caned her. And why? Because she made a phone call to her ailing father using his mobile. So in effect, she was hurt so badly just because she made a 30 paise phone call to her father. And not to forget that, it was her money that went into that mobile in the first place.
Her life is such a myriad of compromises and hardships that she hardly sees any light at the end of the tunnel. She even confessed that she secretly wished for her husband to drink more alcohol and die early. At least, that would bring some relief. She wouldn’t launch a police complaint against him, because her mind is washed with useless morals that have been imbibed in her since her childhood. Or maybe the outside world seemed so dark to her, that she preferred to tolerate her inhuman husband than to survive on her own in her dark world. The slum she dwells in is not kind to single women. There is no dearth of man-leeches and psychos in her slum she said. So rather than fighting against her husband or lodging a complaint against him, she puts up with all his tantrums and autocracy just because she feels relatively secure in his presence. And she worries too much about her children’s security as well.
Why am I sharing all this? How does this concern all of us? What can we do?
I feel we all could little things to bring little comfort and dignity to their lives. Women like Urmila put up with all the crap because they are not empowered. They are uneducated. They feel it’s a part of woman’s destiny to endure all this.
What we could do is,
- for starters, be nice to them
- talk to them like they are human, because they are
- be approachable to them
- give them food with all the respect, not just the left overs
- educate them
- ask about their children and their needs
- tell them about their rights and powers
- on festivals and occasions, reward them, give them bonus
- give our old clothes to them, it would mean a lot to them
- offer to help them with lodging complaints etc, in case they want to take such an action
- educate them about savings, open a savings account for them
- give them a week off, they deserve a holiday too (and don’t be mean and cut off their wages, you wouldn’t become any richer by saving those Rs. 50-100)
There are so many things, which are of little or no value to us, but they could be invaluable to them. We could avoid buying one of the many useless things we buy, and buy them something useful with that money. All that is needed is a heart to empathise with them and to truly feel that their existence, indeed, adds value to our life.
You, the modern woman, are able to do all those things that your high profile corporate job and lifestyle demands only because all those nannies, care takers and women like Urmila do your dishes, clean your house, cook for your families and help you with all the mundane.
Think about it!