January 28, 2009
I cannot stand foreigners living in India and complaigning about the household staff. Here they are, living a postcard life of drivers, gardeners and cooks. When six months ago they were still doing the dishes and thinking nothing of it.
A few months go by and already you can hear them bickering about the cook’s tasteless cheesecake and the gardener’s lack of punctuality.
“What about learning their language”, I suggest. “Maybe then you guys could communicate? You could teach the cook how to make a cheesecake, and you could tell the gardener to be on time.”
“Oh, that language? But it’s so ugly. And it’s too hard.”
“Maybe you can just learn a few useful things.”
“Maybe these people could learn English too.”
“English-medium schools cost a lot of money, they can’t afford it.”
“Well, then what to do?”
I swear, I have had this conversation with an educated Western woman.
My friends back at home are usually shocked to hear that I don’t do anything in the house.
“And that’s all you pay your cleaning lady?”
“Actually, she is a bit more than the cleaning lady. She does everything.”
“Right, and that’s all you pay her for such hard work?”
“Well, that’s what she asked for.”
“Don’t you feel bad?”
“No, not really.”
My baby sister has spent time with me in Jaipur. Clemence being a relatively lazy person, she had no conscience problem with someone doing the washing for her. The maid, half my sister’s size and twice her age, would scold her in Hindi for dropping her clothes all over the bedroom. Clemence would answer back in French. These were fruitful conversations.
My sister Morgane has not visited yet, but I am looking forward to her coming. The egalitarian in the family and a hardcore democrat, she is a swift attacker of all things caste-related. However, she doesn’t mind a pair of Chanel boots. I was speaking to her the other day when my maid brought my dinner. The food was cold, so I asked her to warm it.
“What did you just tell her?” Morgane snapped, her tone switched to lawyer-of-the-oppressed-mode.
“To warm up my food.”
“Can’t you do it yourself?”
My mother loved that story.
Anyway. Having a maid is a luxury I truly cherish. I know I am lucky. But just like dealing with any employee can get tricky, so is dealing with a maid, a person you trust with your belongings and you let into your private sphere – Hum, Jayanti-ji? This is my vintage YSL cashmere cardigan. Right. No, it’s not for cleaning the oven. No. Yes, to wear.