11 September 2017

My experiments with domestic help

I just completed 20 years of employment in the IT industry. Those who know about this industry, know that its notorious for long hours, scope creep into evenings, nights and weekends too sometimes. And if you are in India, its doubly so. On top of this, I'm afflicted with a mild case of OCD which means that I need to clean, organize and declutter every free moment I have else I go nuts. (Hubby says there is no future tense about it.)

With this kind of demand on a working mother, and wife,  and with both sides of the family living in the same city, the only way to survive is with a sound support system - maids, cook, nanny etc.

My first maid was someone who cleaned my 1 bedroom apartment when I was single. She was a spry lady who worked at a lot of flats in the apartment complex and was much in demand. She bunked a lot of days due to this, but somehow I was favored with less bunks than my neighbors. She had even invited me to her daughter's "coming of age" ceremony. When I was to get married and go to US, she even gifted me a farewell present! She expressed a wish to accompany me to the US and keep my house! Unfortunately, I could not comply due to obvious reasons.

After a brief stint in the US where I had a long commute and managed all the other chores alongwith it, I had sworn that I would never cook again. So I hired a cook for the first time. She also cleaned at my place. She was a muslim lady, single at that. The advantages were that she did not demand too many leaves for various festivals, no strings at home with hubby and in-laws missing and cooked delicious non-veg!

A lot of people judged me for this decision as having someone else cook for you was anathema at the time. Luckily hubby was supportive. But though the maid had sound basics of cooking, she needed to be handheld in the correct usage of oil, ghee, salt, spices etc. to suit our palate and pocket. I trained her on how to make chappatis that would stay soft for a long time, how to cook maharashtrian dishes etc. (She used to work at a north Indian home earlier) Also, having no hubby or MIL at home, she was not used to accepting criticism of her culinary skills. That meant I had to take a crash course in tact ! She also had an irritating habit of not informing if some critical ingredient needed to be replenished well in time. She would tell it while cooking and many a time I or hubby had to rush to grocery store to get it (e.g. salt).

At this time, though she did the jhaadu-poccha, I did all the other cleaning such as bathrooms, balcony, fans, ceilings dusting etc. With a 3BHK home, this was exhausting and took up all my free time, especially the weekend. Part of the reason was that we had to leave for work in the morning and she had to finish by the time we had to leave - so there was only so much she could achieve. Since there was no guarantee of when we would be back, we could not have her or anyone else coming in the evenings. She was an artist at whatever she did but had the attitude to go with it. But she was super-honest and above board. As she gained our trust, I even gave her a duplicate key so she could take up more chores and lock the door behind her when she finished. She never let me down. But over the years she met a senior guy who became her "husband" as per local grapevine, and he influenced her a lot. She became more demanding, less respectful and we had frequent spats over mismatch of expectations. Finally, one fine day, I had to ask her to take it or leave it. She was advised to leave it and she did.

So after a successful 7 year stint with a maid in my young life (big achievement, believe me), I had to hunt for a replacement. I had a baby girl by then. So I decided to split the duties this time. I went in for 2 maids - one for cleaning and one for cooking. This way, if one didn't turn up, there was always the other to help. This, however, took a toll as it meant training 2 maids in different sets of tasks with a baby to care for. The cleaning one didn't work out so had to change a couple of times. By the time my baby became older, we also hired a nanny to help my mother look after her. So now I had 3 maids to manage. Believe me, it was a nightmare.

The one who washed utensils complained that there were too many. So had to ask the cook to use less utensils while cooking. But she would not comply. So I had to ask the cook to clean utensils too - to ensure that she would make her own work easier by using up less utensils. That worked! But she wouldn't clean the kitchen platform properly. So I adjusted her wages and put that on her performance goals. Though she cooked the regular meals well, she had no stomach to try out new dishes. She could not read so I had to read and explain recipes to her, which she tended to forget. So had to explain everytime she cooked. Also, she could not read a clock (believe me, I tried a lot) so she could never use the pressure cooker accurately. She also tends to hog the entire kitchen platform - I have a big one too. So when she is cooking, there is no scope of cooking alongwith her as she does not like sharing her platform space. Needless to say, I had to lose the tact and give her a lot of feedback to get her on track. There have been verbal spats, tears, threats and phone calls. She has stayed on though (7 yrs and counting). Despite many of her family and health challenges, she continues to cook for us and is respected even by my daughter (tough tastemaster) for her culinary skills. She actually surprises me with some creativity in the menu sometimes and even lets us know in advance what needs to be replaced. And she cooks for 3 people only now, earlier she somehow assumed we are 6 and cooked double. She still embarks on long leaves whenever there is a wedding or funeral amongst any of her acquaintances without any notice, but nowadays her son does call to inform when we can expect her back.

Meanwhile, I had delegated the bathroom cleaning to the cleaning lady. But that was a different ballgame and I had to change a couple more times before someone met my standard. In the meantime, the nanny was not working out. She came from a political family and was a sarpanch figurehead at her village. She needed to rush for monthly meetings to the village whenever required and was out for 10 days at a stretch sometimes. The next nanny was a gem, but her husband had trust issues, so she quit(or was made to). The subsequent one was a young girl who got married and put her mother in charge after she left. Now this fourth one tended to pick quarrels with other nannies in the neighbourhood and I had to step in many times to calm the ruffled feathers. Eventually hubby put his foot down and she had to be let go. The current nanny has been a blessing so far. She takes care of dusting, some other chores in the house and even picks my daughter up from the bus stop. She has evening snacks ready for my daughter and us when we return hungry from school & work respectively and accompanies her to the park.

I've been staying at my current residence for 14 years now and its been a long journey in terms of domestic help. There have been some trysts with drivers too (such as a driver not able to read the traffic signs due to illiteracy, another being a drunkard, a third having a fetish for running red lights and the last giving in to Hinjewadi road rage with choicest language) but I've long given up on those now. As long as Uber and Ola exist, I believe drivers, and their attitudes, are redundant.

Domestic help can be a cause of great stress and discontent. But when things work out, they are a lifeline. Without all their combined help and valuable life lessons, I wouldn't be where I am today. I've had lectures from my mom and MIL that I am too lenient with my domestic help but believe me there is nothing to be gained by being authoritative or strict. The only way to deal is with lots of respect, patience, acceptance and generosity.  Gadgets should be bought and delegated to them with care as they are either reluctant or careless with them. I've never had anything missing from my home in all these years and no experience of the stove being left on etc. till date. Also, last year, when we renovated our home, the cleaning maid and the nanny helped with a lot of cleaning and organizing both during and post the renovation. The cook even came for a fortnight to my mothers' place where we had put up during the renovation! They are like an extended family and work in peace. If I so much as sneeze, they ensure that I do not need to lift a finger around the house.

1 comment:

Random Blogger 3 (Amit Shirodkar) said...

You have chronicled the journey well - brought back some memories - good and bad both :-).

All the characters had peculiar traits of their own. Some were flexible, some not so much.
The way you have adjusted to the "strategy" of handling different maids is also a testament to your emotional intelligence. Without any help from anyone, to make maids remain for 7 years or more is just fantastic!

And yes - respect goes a long way. Instead of false niceties, if people just treat their employees with respect, that helps forge a bond like nothing else. The extra help that we have gotten from them in times of need is ample proof.

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