Maid in India 3

I arrived at my friend Cariappa’s house to meet the prospective maid.

I have no photos of the meeting. I think the whole thing, for everyone involved was all too intense! We were checking each other out. How weird. Would we get on? How would we know? It’s quite an intimate thing. Inviting someone into your home to cook, clean, and look after things. This was a whole now experience for me. Manjula of course had been here before she had worked as a maid for over ten years for one family, amongst many other things. Me, I was the beginner, the intrepid explorer stepping out into the unknown.

Help!

I’d only supposed to come out to a India for a few months’ pilot. Now I was renting a house, furnishing it, employing a maid. What had happened there… A whole new adventure, in a crazy land and with so many twists and turns…. Whatever next!?

…. if only I’d known!

What would she be like? What did I want and how would I communicate it?

What would she think? (I found out later!) Working for a foreigner would be so different, maybe! It’s worth me remembering I’m from a poor background that’s shifted into the middle class and now living abroad in India.  ‘The old poor made good’ which as it turned out, is exactly the path that many in India are taking.

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Manjula was quiet, shy, reserved. She’d brought a friend with her for moral support. Good idea! We spoke a few words with Cary and his wife Ganga helping out. I just wanted someone to cook a meal and clean. We  then walked round the corner to my house. Things seemed to be going well. They looked around the place, it seemed so big to me. There’s so much to clean but only me, honest! Just the upstairs house with three bedrooms (known locally as a 3BHK) the downstairs house came later. It was sparsely furnished with little on the walls, it’s hard to imagine what it was like ( so, so different now) but then oh no……..we hit a problem….. it was all off ……we’d found the deal breaker..

Maid in India 2

It’s almost eight years ago that I moved to India and mentioned to my grown-up sons that I was looking for a maid. They were horrified.

We’re from the UK, are quite liberal and left wing. I’m actually from a relatively poor working class background. The idea of having a servant was also way beyond the usual more acceptable (in the UK anyway) middle class practice of a cleaner.

It introduces a class dimension. It’s seen as a bit 19th century, old-fashioned, elitist and servants are employed by people who are not like us! Who see themselves a cut above the rest, or the hoi polloi , a case of upstairs/downstairs. In our world view, its all completely unacceptable.

 

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as you can see its a big house and I need help! Fact is, I only had the first floor eight years ago

 

I explained as best I could. It was important to provide employment particularly as there was no real welfare safety net in India. I was fitting in with the way things are, and my approach would be different (yep, it would be!) I would be a sensitive and caring employer.

So I asked my friends Ganga and Cariappa if they could recommend someone. The maid network came up with someone pretty quickly.

I was called round to meet someone.

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So what’s the bigger picture? once again Tripti Lahiri helps out:

“Britain saw the number of servants drop from 250,000 in 1951 to 32,000 two decades later.”

India followed a similar trajectory until that is, the 1970’s when there began a dramatic increase in the numbers of servants (we’ll come back to terminology later) employed and this is a situation reflected globally.

“According to international labour groups, as of 2010. there were more than 50 million such workers globally, an increase of nearly  20 million from 1995, most of this made up of women. There are now over 40 million female domestic workers globally.” 

So OK that’s enough with all the big numbers, what does this mean in practice for the women involved? who are they? where are they from and what lives do they lead?

 

 

 

Dire Straits

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Manjula, Kamalama, and Manjula’s mum Parvatamma

Manjula is just back with more info about Kamalama’s situation. The first story was most accurate. The one about family illness was a cover story.

Kamalama has effectively run away to Coorg, where she’s from, the area of the western Ghats a few hours away.

It seems that there was an argument and some sort of fracas with her son’s ‘wife’. The upshot is that the ‘wife’ threatened to come round with her main husband and kill Kamalama later that day. So she’s done a runner. Can’t blame her but what a terrible situation for an elderly lady.

Farrell Factoid

the wife has a range of ‘husbands’ that she flits between.

I’m not saying this sort of violence is usual or the complex inter-relationships is common but I’ve heard of similar situations.

Kamalama’s son re-appeared a few years ago and she was happy they had re-established contact. She lives a simple life, has a small house and works as cleaner, washing clothes etc at various houses. We think she’s is in her 60’s. It’s difficult to know what if anything we can do.