Maids of Honour

BY ASHA IYER KUMAR

Life, off late, has started to become a stockpile of indispensables. The things that we incorporated into our lives to make the going easier are now making us slaves of a different kind, making life not just difficult, but abject in their absence. I am not talking of the devils called Devices alone that have made us compulsive technical zombies. There is another D that’s now stealing the sleep out of us womenfolk – Domestic Help. And when the woman in the house doesn’t sleep, it is nearly impossible for anyone else to do so.

The biggest rant that echoed among the people I met during my last visit to India was about the dearth of domestic servants there. The erstwhile obliging servant class is now virtually on the verge of extinction, leaving families high and dry. Most households that ran on the stilts of servants are now finding themselves severely crippled. Of course, we have the vacuum cleaners and washing machines, but we need people to run them, especially with our limbs having become biological apparatuses that are now capable of handling only techno crafts and meticulously scripted workouts in the Gym.

Coming back to domestic workers, where have they all vanished?

There are various theories about this. Rising levels of literacy, growing employment opportunities in other sectors, an improved sense of self esteem, increased awareness of rights leading to heightened demands (often unreasonable) have all contributed to the dissipation of the domestic work force. Finding a true blue, non-shirking, non sulking maid or man has become a major challenge in these times of deceit and dacoity. And should you find one, it is supremely important to keep her or him in glowing spirits. You can afford to ignore your family’s happiness, but not your house help’s, for, rest assured, the family will not walk out on you one fine morning. You may not get an increment, but say that to your servant when she or he asks for a raise at your own risk of losing a luxury. The quality of work may not be topnotch, but you swallow your dissatisfaction because you don’t want to be left ‘orphaned’. This is true of domestic servants everywhere.

This holds true even here, where availability is not a major issue. Truth be told, we suffer from an excess of domestic help here. One to clean the house, another to chop vegetables, another to cook, and if you have a garden, one to tend to it too. A friend has a cook who rustles up restaurant style food every day. I mean, it’s like eating out every single day of your life. I am left to wonder if that’s a perk or a punishment.

Our reliance on people who do our house jobs belies all postulates about self sufficiency as a virtue, as the very thought of having to do it all by ourselves now makes us hyperventilate. Many of us now don’t think much before having guests over, because we have an extra pair of hands to help us with the cooking, clearing and cleaning. We don’t go back from work in the office to work in the house, which gives us time with family, television and pets. Having someone full time means a having a caretaker for the house. Funny, how we have slowly and imperceptibly handed over the reins of our household chores to the maid and made her the de facto master of it all.

Physical activity has now left its cozy confines of domesticity and has entered the highflying arena of health clubs. The physiotherapist who treated my frozen shoulder nailed it when he said, “You women started getting these kinds of problems the day you stopped sweeping, mopping and washing clothes yourself.” The pain in the arm and his pungent words made me wince. Talking about indispensability, it’s so true that whatever we own will eventually own us.

-the writer is a freelance journalist based in Dubai

-courtesy: The Khaleej Times