Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Ubiquitous Velaikari (Maid Servant)

Maid Servant (Velaikari), the ubiquitous part time domestic help is unique to the Asian region, where the labour is cheap and almost every middle class house has some Muniamma or Chellamma, Thayee or a Bhayee to help the housewife. As per the unwritten agreement, she is expected to come early in the morning to purify(!) the portion in front of the main door / gate with water and draw a simple kolam using white rice powder and her dexterous fingers. She is then expected to clean the house, wash the utensils and also help in washing the clothes and dry them up. In many of the houses the maid servant is also expected to re-visit the house in the afternoon to have one more cleaning operation of the house with a broomstick to clear the dust collected during the day and also help in removing the dried clothes and neatly fold them up so that they can find their rightful places in the cupboard or the wardrobe! This Muniamma or Chellamma or whatever is her name is expected to help the housewife all the 365 days without break and without any paid annual holidays, breaking all labour laws in the country. It is almost like a bonded labour but with a difference!

While almost every domestic help starts with the good intention of following the agreement during the first month, the trouble starts in the very second month when the maid is delayed by half an hour one day. She comes at 6.30 am instead of 6.00 am. That is the beginning of the tension for the housewife.

Within a couple of days she first absents herself for a day and later for a couple of days at a stretch- the reasons for not coming are many – It could be the child is not well (most common excuse), husband / daughter / mother-in-law or any other distant relative staying with the maid has been admitted to the hospital. In some cases the maid admits that the husband came home drunk the previous night and beat her up so badly that she could not get up in the morning- bruises on the face and body are shown to justify the reason for not coming. Invariably, such sob stories are followed by requests for advance money. While the housewife is asked to deduct the hand loan from the next month’s salary – the next month the woman has more sob stories to tell and requests the madam not to deduct anything from that month`s salary but the next. And the next month for adjusting the advance never happens!

Result of all these is the mounting tension on the housewife, who in turn passes on her tension first to the husband and then to the children. When the children get married and go away the poor old husband has to bear the brunt of the wife`s tantrums! As a person who has suffered this syndrome for the last three decades, I can tell you that the domestic helps are the major cause for many marital problems in a typical middle and upper middle class household!

When I ask my wife ‘why you .don`t you sack the woman and get a new maid’, the answer is so typical ‘though she cheats on her work, at least she doesn’t cheat me otherwise. She is a very honest person(!)`.

Today in our house we have a maid servant who has been with us for the last 10 years. Over a period of time she has managed to get her salary tripled with progressively lesser and lesser work. But as a family, we continue to suffer her because my wife is afraid that she may not get another reliable (!) helping hand if this woman leaves us!

Recently, the maid servant used a brilliant strategy (I would call it a master stroke) to remain in the job, doing even much less work for the same salary! You see my wife had a fall and broke her left wrist, making it difficult for her to do all the chores requiring the use of both hands. The maid servant, who continued with her errant ways, making my wife more tense and miserable, one day told my wife, ‘Amma, I feel bad about absenting myself often because of my personal problems. Why don’t you find another maid servant! I will try and help you get one!’

I jumped with joy! I told my wife, `this is the best opportunity to get a new maid. Grab it`. The maid, true to her promise paraded a couple of potential candidates, most of whom were demanding a salary which was three times what my wife was paying the current maid. The explanation was that the Koreans and Japanese expats and even some people from Mumbai residing in the area were offering much higher salary for much less work.

My wife has now done a complete somersault. Instead of getting rid of the current maid, she has convinced her that if she continues with us, she does not have to do any work inside the house like dusting, washing clothes or the utensils, which necessitate the maid to come regularly at particular times. She told the maid ` I will do these jobs myself. You see these are not so difficult(she has been doing all these jobs for several days a month when the maid absents herself). You only clean the entire compound area and water the plant. You can come any time convenient to you to do the job. I will pay you the same salary!`

I was completely bowled by this!The maid is delighted. Because she is having the cake and eating it too! The positive aspect of the story is that I am not a victim of my wife`s tantrums in the mornings anymore!

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