Friday, December 28, 2007

Adventures in India 2 - Servants

Just about every family has a servant at some level. A person comes to cook, clean, wash or anything. This is common in a lot of developing countries, since it provides jobs to the lower classes. Behind every worker is a family that is supported by this income. It's not deemed a "luxury" as it is in the US, but a necessity, part of the economic structure.

Then, there's the American in me. When I was 11 and had visited India, I was amazed at this. I had lost my socks and was looking all over the room for it. The servant saw me looking and he started to help. He got down to look under the bed for me. I was surprised because in my eyes, here's a grown man helping me look for something I should be responsible for. In the US, you can't find your sock, you're out of luck.

I hear a lot of my Indian friends now talk about the maids and the help you get in the house. Again, as an American, I'm used to loading my own laundry, sweeping, cleaning.. heck, we finished our own basement from spackling to painting. So, I always felt people who talked about the servants in India were too elitist for me and not practical enough. You're in the US, you do have to work hard. Get over it.

Now, I've been here 2 days and I'm thinking of moving just because of the availability of help. My first surprise was when the kids went to play in the backyard and the nanny would be with them and I didn't have to go. I could, in fact, enjoy lunch with the other adults. The nanny (Nandini) looks about 16 years old and she speaks Marathi with a little English. She gets some downtime, but helps with the light housework (washing dishes, making tea). I was surprised when I made some rice for Annika that I just prepared it and then Nandini watched the stove, while I played with the kids.

Women can cook like Martha Stewart (er..Madhu Jaffrey) because someone else chops and preps. I know some friends at home who have complained because their MILs cook as if they were still in India -- expecting someone else to clean and prep.

I suppose since my harrowing adventures from last week, I realize how much time housework was taking away from other things I could be doing. Weekdays are stressful when I come home because Annika wants me to spend time with her. However, I need to cook dinner. So, she always complains when I cook and I compromise by chopping vegetables while reading to her. If food was ready when I got home, then I could focus on her directly.

Yesterday the dhobi was at the door and I gave clothes that were crushed in the suitcases (for my American readers: the dhobi washes/irons your clothes and delivers. Most people do not even have irons in their homes because the cost is nominal). My sister-in-law asked me to put all my clothes to wash by the washing machine and Nandini would wash and fold them.

Flashback to US: I separate whites and darks, load in the morning, toss in the dryer before I leave for work, and fold as I watch TV at night, then nag my husband to carry the basket upstairs for me so I can put them in drawers. For dry cleaning, we discuss whether we should drive extra ten minutes to the $1.50 cleaner or go next door to the $2.00+ and then try to remember who has the receipt and when to pick up.

I know friends of ours have a cleaning service that comes every two weeks but we've always prided ourselves on our spic-and-span house, done the way we prefer it done. For us, housekeeping is a work in progress and it can't be held until one day a week. We're always washing, sweeping, cleaning. We yell to our guests "We'll be right with you!" as we quickly put away leftovers and load dishwashers.

I suppose this what travelling and living outside of your own comfort-zone does. It makes you challenge and rethink your own judgments about other lives.


Anonymous said...

Are you kidding, you are not alone, the tones of desis just want to move to India, just for the sheer luxury of having a housekeeper and a dozen others to help you keep house. Aint that wonderful ?

Anonymous said...

Glad you are enjoying India and the luxuries that come with it. Despite those luxuries life started grating at me after a while. I felt stifled and lacked any personal space. The only thing I miss bout India is the family and the warmth you instantly feel from people and of course shopping but I suppose I have a bit of India here thanx to my mother who was quite the spoilt princess herself and lived life well. She taught me to get a laundry and cleaning service and it really has made my life easier. Spoilt I'm sure but definitely easier and now that I'm married I'm in the market looking for a cook. My husband refuses to have him or me spend hours in the kitchen after a long day at work everyday. Works for me :-)

Anonymous said...

A detailed post on how you keep your house,on a day by day basis, the routine would be great Indigo. I am sure to draw up pearls of wisdom from that post

Anonymous said...

TAAMommy - you know, one of my parenting articles is "Time Management" and I have a lot of details there. My plm is that I'm so bad at time management - so I have to work harder at it. :-)

JOAT - I hear ya.. my mom's family has a very strong work ethic about girls being "trained" to do housework. We've had to contribute since we were young. And, I know the cousins in India were also instilled with those values. I once noticed my cousin talking to her daughters and recognized the speech!

Regarding cooking and chores, I think it depends on your priorities. For us, food is important, but not THAT critical (i.e., must have fresh rotis daily). So, cooking in quanties works for us at home.

JOAT - why can't you and your hub spend time cooking together in the kitchen?? (oh you newlyweds ;-)

Anonymous said...

lesson learned: You need to get a maid when you get back. Free your time. There's more to life than folding laundry.