I am quite brutally honest! Not a nice trait I am told. The first time I returned home, back to India in 1995 after living overseas for a year, my sister looked at me with much love and wondered aloud who I must have missed the most while abroad. I realized much later that she had expected a prompt no brainer reply containing, of course mum, dad, you!
I, on the other hand seriously pondered over and contemplated aloud – hmmmm is it the person who ironed our clothes or could it be the lady who came to cook or was it the comfort of picking up the phone and dialing the grocer’s number saying, hey brother can you send me a kilo of onion and half kilo of potatoes? No, probably it was the lady who came every morning to clean the house, cut the veggies, wash the pots and pans that didn’t go into the dishwasher, hand wash and air dry the delicates and fold all the clothes, while treating me to tea amidst the chores! Gosh! It was a difficult question to answer, who did I miss the most!
I saw my sister’s crestfallen expression and tried to make amends of course. But, when born and raised an Indian, getting accustomed to living without the comforts which one so takes for granted requires a bit of time. While living in India, the husband and I were among the minorities who didn’t employ a live in maid, a 24/7 baby sitter, a cook or even a driver. Between us we were adept and happy to handle the chores with one help, just one maid who came for a few hours everyday, something unheard of amongst our family and friends.
I have always had some basic help be it daily, weekly or fortnightly wherever we lived, whether Asia, Africa, Australia or America. In fact the house we lived in Zambia came with not one or two but four helps! I enjoyed teaching one of them some Indian cuisine and in no time she mastered the art of making the most amazing rotis and paranthas (Indian breads) with her baby tied on her hip, happily singing in Bemba (the local language). The help in Tokyo came once a week and was so courteous that my little boy, then just a few months old would bow deep when she arrived and bowed equally deep when she left. When he (un)intentionally dropped a perfume bottle into the pot he crawled up to her to own up. She giggled happily saying kawai kawai (sweet, sweet in Japanese) as she pulled on the longest gloves I have seen or used, to dig out of the pot and hand over to me with flourish and of course another deep bow, the dripping wet prized perfume.
I could write volumes about our help in Melbourne. The mother-daughter-sister-sister in law group were Bosnians settled in Australia. They came in driving a Mercedes and wearing the most fashionable clothes with the latest gadgets hanging out of their pockets. They would regale me with stories of the house one of them was building, often flying to China to shop, for everything from the window frame, floor tiles to the screws used in installing the hob/chimney. I thought that was taking ‘Made in China’ a bit too seriously. The help in California is a lovely Hispanic lady and our home buzzes with some peppy songs from across the border every two weeks as she climbs on ladders to clean every high nook and disappears under the bed for every hidden corner. I had once asked our help in Jamaica to clean the fan and was taken aback to find the fan unscrewed and soaking in soapy water in the bath tub.
The help in Mumbai needs a separate paragraph dedicated to her, not only because she came everyday but also because of the way she came. She would turn up all decked up in a gorgeous saree, wearing at least 3 necklaces of multiple lengths, four earrings in each of her earlobe, a nose pin on her sharp nose, multiple green glass bangles jangling alongside the gold on her tattooed arms, she would regally swing in saying ‘Bhabi‘ (sister-in-law). In India the help doesn’t address the employer by their given name or sir/ Madam as in many other countries. They are always addressed as sister, sister in law or brother while the elderly in the family are referred to respectfully as mother and father. My son had just begun his baby babbles when we moved to Mumbai. One day as I saw him run to me with unadulterated love shining from his eyes, his face gleaming with excitement, I knew that the moment had dawned when I would hear the first word of mummy. With my heart thumping, I waited with eager anticipation to hear the golden words and he called out….‘Bhabiiii!!!’
Yes I know, I know…the influence of the help is far reaching, mind blowing and substantial! Is it a wonder that I am writing “An ode to the help? “
Picture courtesy: http://www.pinterest.com