In India, there are all kinds of “helps”. You have the maid who will come home and clean your house for you and wash your clothes and do the dishes, etc. Then you have the watchman who will also sometimes hail cabs for you or wash your car, and so on. You also have the “kachrawali” (the one who collects the trash everyday), the driver (whose sole purpose is to drive you around), the massage lady (who will come to your home and give your infant an oil massage), and so on. The list is endless and the needs plenty, as we in India, enjoy and expect a certain level of domestic help in our lives. It is not even a status symbol, to be honest. It is part and parcel of the Indian culture and lifestyle.
However, as one can and should expect, not all helps are reliable. I would like to propose 3 kinds of helps: the really greedy, conniving types, the hard working but manipulative types, and then you have the sincere kinds of help that never ever ask for money except for their salary. Let’s take Type Number I: The conniving types. The kachrawali, who has been employed by the building since the last 35 years, is the most horrendous person I have ever met. Mos people in the building have only disdain for her. You may wonder, then, why she is still around. Apparently, it’s got to do with the fact that she is part of a state union and getting her out would be very painful for the tenants of the building. That is a story for another time. Over all the years I have been visiting Mumbai, I have always known her to be a greedy and scheming woman, trying to get people to give her money, sometimes even demanding it. As is the norm, when anyone in a lower strata knows that you are “baar gaon” (not from India), they will try to milk you and find all the possible reasons under the sun so that you can give them some dough (I am beginning to realize that this is almost a rite of passage or initiation for being a Mumbaikar). I have often not interacted with her and, on rare occasions, I have only smiled or asked her how her family is doing.
This time when I returned to Mumbai with my husband, whom she has never seen before, I saw a side of her that really infuriated me. As soon as she found out that I was in town, she marched her way to my building, came to my front door, and rang my door bell. I looked through the peephole and recognized that irritating face and very happily decided to ignore her. The next morning she rang my door bell – i did not wake up in time to keep the trash out so I could avoid any exchanges with her – and asked me how I was doing and I did the same and then she closed the conversation with the following, “I am so happy that you are back now.” I knew what was coming…
A few weeks later, my husband who puts the trash out in the mornings, was asked about my whereabouts every morning by the kachrawali, to which he would respond in a bland manner with, “She is resting”. On day 4, she finally had the nerve to inform my husband that the couple who lived in the flat before us gave her Rs.100. My husband listened and when she found not much of a positive response from him, she immediately demanded the money. My husband said, “We’ll see.”
Day 5 and I wake up in time to put the trash outside my door to avoid ANY interaction with the woman. A pat on my back for making the effort to get up early and have a cuppa a joe and slip into the morning routine. All this came to a grinding halt when I heard the door bell. I knew in my gut, that it was the wretched woman!!! My husband got to the door and was reminded about yesterday’s conversation, to which he responded, “Let me check with the building’s secretary and then I will let you know.” She obviously got frightened by his remark and immediately told him there was no need to talk to the secretary and that, “Jo bhi dena hein, khushi se do” (whatever money you want to give, give it happily). Again, my husband said he would see and shut the door. Imagine her cheek!!! We have hardly moved back and she is already making her demands…..the greedy woman! We will use her exact dialogue when we give her money for Diwali and she tells us it is not enough. Our exact response will be, “Jo bhi de rehein hein, hum khushi se de rehein hein,” (whatever we are giving, we are giving happily)!
Then you have Type Number II: The hardworking ones who will still find indirect ways to give you a message and who will try to ge away with slipshod work once in a while. This the case with my house help. Let’s call her Mala. Mala is sincere, and honest, but has a great skill of using stories to get her message across. She recently told me that the previous tenants who rented our place, were very good to her. They even once took her to a departmental store and told her to buy whatever she wanted as a going away present because they were moving out. Mala explained to meet all the choices she had at the store and how she was forced into going to this store and was only later told that she was especially taken to this store to thank her for her work, etc. I take all this information with a grain of salt, because I have know this woman for the last 15 years. That’s how long she has worked for us. I am yet to get collateral from the previous tenants who she previously worked for. In any case, Mala is sincere and for most part, does a good job with the house cleaning and is always supportive of me when I share with her my woes. Here is Ms. Mala in her favorite colored saree:
And then you have Type Number III: The worker bee who expects nothing more than her salary and is grateful for anything that you do over and beyond……I am yet to find one of those in my lifetime! Will I ever find such a gem….my instinct says “negative”.