I have seen my mother do it. I have seen my landladies and aunties do it. Cursing our maids is a ritual performed by Indian women since old ages and the tradition continues even today. If there is one individual a woman wants to have control on, besides her husband, it is the maid.
The Shanta Bais and Champa Bens of India have been ridiculed; have been the target of our mockery on Channel V spoof shows and Star One comedy shows. That is one place where they are rendered helpless and we can sit back on our comfortable sofas and laugh at them. In reality, they have the power that can make the most dominating wives and wicked mother-in-laws look like wimps.
They look ordinary, frail women but don’t let their outer demeanour mislead you. They belong to the most important, indispensable species of humankind. Had it not been for their importance, women would not be spending sleepless nights trying to build schemes to leash their maid, trying to find that one comeback line that can shut a maid’s loud mouth about how less she is being paid and turn her into an obedient robot. That would be ultimate bliss. In today’s era, it is not diamonds from her husband that a woman aspires for; it is for her maid’s submission.
How much ever the female employer does the tigress act, deep inside she is a chicken. The biggest fear she lives by is her maid bunking work. After each day she thanks God for making the presence of a maid felt in her life today and prays that such endowment will be granted to her on coming days too. The absence of maid can have collateral effect on her whole family, not just her house and her mind. Husbands withdraw, happy to do so, and are afraid to open their mouth lest they annoy the enraged, vexed tigress. The kids talk to each other in hushed whispers wondering why their parents are looking so doomed and put on their best disciplined act in fear.
The morning prayers are now replaced by urging God to shower blessing again on her family if the woman has ever done any good in her life. She leaves for work limp and lost feeling like her whole life is crumbling in front of her and hopes for an angel to come and save her from the jinx. And when the maid finally graces her home with her presence, she declares her to be the best maid in the world.
The work done by the maid is given telescopic scrutiny and any fault found is noted down in deep black to be brought up in the next confrontation session in the court of God. Our gardeners cheat us, so do our car cleaners and watchmen, but it is the maid who deserves the brunt of our suspicion, criticism and discontent. The confrontations are predictable. Madam saying you don’t do any work properly here and Bai saying increase my pagaar first. Madam’s confident disposition starts shaking when Bai acts indifferent. Any further rising of voice is enough to send Memsaab propelling back to the prayer room.
I had to get dragged into this battle too. I stay alone and managing the already worn out and shabby house is between me and the Bai now. Being a single working girl doesn’t help. For one, the Bai has a gala time doing work half-heartedly (if ever she does, that is) in my absence and not come on weekends, which is the only time I can meet her. Instructions on phone reach deaf ears and if they do register, response comes in the form of pagaar badhao. Juggling office, bills and shopping wasn’t sufficient to drive me insane, now it’s the Bai causing me to mutter to myself in the lone house. Such is the fierce bearing of the maid I’m already behaving like a madwoman in my Twenties (OK. Very late twenties).
I will not let her win. I will bribe her with my old clothes and shoes. And food. But I will not increase her pagaar.
(And the war continues).