The relationships we share with our house-helps are usually a potpourri of emotions. Maids know how to open our best most charitable corner of the heart, every passing Diwali or daughter’s school fee day, whichever occurs more often. They also bring out the longest faces our visages can manage, what with those undeclared leaves right after taking 2 month’s salary in advance.
I have seen myself going from one end of the emotional spectrum to the other like a pendulum oscillating drunk, for reasons which are every home’s story. She comes (or not comes) for an hour every day and helps me with what she is supposed to, at least with 60 per cent of the job profile that was pre decided when I kept her. She seems happy, especially since the other residences are House of Horrors for her and mine a halka ghar, whatever that means.
House of Horrors? She tells me bizarre stories of how some ‘momsters’ have asked her to clean verandas with cold water in peak winters and bare-foot please, the child may catch infection from her slippers. How her colleagues have often been falsely accused of eating burfis by the Madam, gossiping about Sir, having an affair with the driver, and being married to a murderer lodged in a village jail – all untruths which are only spread to fire them and even keep another from hiring them. Their character certificates are written and re-written at the drop of a mop, and the stories continue – not just of how they treat us but also of how we women mistreat our own helps.
This post is about my maid, who comes and goes with a big smile on her face, so I presume she is happy with me.
But, what I want to talk about is how happy I am with her, especially because I see so many lessons that these washing, mopping, cleaning, cooking whirlwinds hold for our children to pick, even as they go about doing their routine job, day-after-day.
This is what, I believe my Pushpa has helped my impressionable child learn, with just an hour of being around every day (All Sundays off sans salary cut! But none of that in this post.):
- Politeness – Pushpa is always polite with my son. She will ‘aap him, speak ever so softly and often save him from his mother’s canines when he acts a fussy handful, by trying to make him smile. Gentle behavior is not something he sees around – be it parks, plazas or play-schools. As a result, he wallows in it when he gets it, copies it and duly returns the politeness with a greater dose bordering on over-dose.Why, what was the poor woman to say to his offer of sleeping in his toy room with his robot from today, something he has never offered his parents? (She stopped blushing only when I convinced her that robot is a toy!) Perhaps, he envisaged a buffer from his mother’s wrath in her person? Or perhaps, he was just happy to have a soft-spoken person who does not push him around, pull his toys out his hands, scream or even force-feed or force-pee him. Whichever it may be, Pushpa brings out the gentleman in my brat!
- Accepting strangers and difference – At a few months of age, I did not expect him to understand or digest the presence of a stranger woman, nor why she is rolling-unrolling carpets or playing with his broom. At two-point-something, Pushpa is no longer that. She has built a rapport with him enough to be his aunty expected (though not usually arriving, but none of that here) everyday at 10 O’clock. Bathed and combed he waits for her and does not mind a bit when she moves his toys or cycle to clean, which otherwise, this little imp continues very possessive about. He takes it for granted now, that different people dress differently and may look different from the ones he knows but that do not make them any stranger to our lives or our prized possessions. It is Pushpa to be thanked, for making him understand this feeling of oneness by feeling one with my family in turn.
- Hard-work and Selflessness – Now that, he knows what sweat is and why it is formed (his mother’s self-aggrandised version of motherly duties and the hard work contained therein, as told to his father), he has learnt that a sweating Pushpa aunty scrubbing his space and clothes to shine like new, is working really hard, and all for him. And doing something for others is a “good boy” thing. How, she comes everyday only to make sure that the Roohafza he tried to drink from the glass does not keep the floor sticky. Or the chocolate, which his new shirt enjoyed, leaves no mark on mommy’s memory. If he had kept watching his mother sitting, typing keys and calling it hard work, he would never have learnt what getting soaked in sweat out of sheer work is all about. And that too, selfless work for another (the concept of salary is unknown to him). The only problem? He loves to think he is working hard and hence sweating too, and so visits the wash basin to sprinkle the ‘sweat’ coming out of the tap on his face, to proudly display. Pushpa, better have a solution to my tank running dry by afternoon, everyday!
- Idea of helping –The little devil does his excited jig tailing Pushpa, as she goes from kitchen to washroom to drawing room to everywhere. Since she cannot un-tail him, she lets him be a party to what she is doing. She has taught him, how he can be of help too. It’s as if she is guiding him on the art of mopping (ahem, if she knows what it is! But then, no more of that), or soaking clothes or even just putting the wet utensils such that they don’t topple in a heap (like they have a strange tendency to, but I say no more here) .He follows her instructions to the t. And what have we? He loves to help me around the house even after she is gone – even if it means opening cupboards so I can put ironed clothes inside or just waving a hanky in the air and declaring – ‘I’m cleaning the wind’, the only activity done with such fervor that it actually makes him sweat!
That man-made, kismet perpetuated economic disparity will always remain between one human being and the other. But what man can also make are human bonds with those who, in whatever little way, make our lives easier for us. I love my Pushpa, for what she means to my child, and what she has consciously and sub-consciously taught him to believe in the one hour she makes my home her house.
When I told her I will be writing this about her, she beamed with the thought that it would be in the papers the next day and everyone will read. I promised her it would not be (alas!), but I also assured her that those who will read will only bless her for what she is, just like I do. (And that does not mean another advance till the last is settled, okay?)
Life’s little instruction book comes personified in many forms. Don’t miss them, even if they are busy frying tikkis for you, cleaning your cars or brushing the dust under the carpet (Oh, but none of that in this post, as promised).
Sakshi Nanda went from studying Literature to serving the print media and finally settling with two publishing houses who called her editor for a couple of hard-bounds, no more! She writes as a work-from-home mother to realize herself as well as to be read, both – with her 2-year-old boy and her sarkari babu beau as the greatest source of ideas and inspiration. She believes eating baby food is therapeutic and that the pen is man’s best invention, after diapers that is! Meet her at: sakshinanda.blogspot.in