Can someone be sent to jail for not paying a maid enough? It’s unbelievable. Not surprising that in every home I work I hear people condemning the incident. And just think the money maids are supposed to get there in America! About Rs. 575 per hour.

Even one-tenth of that would be so sufficient for me. What life would it have been then, getting so much money, and more so working at only one place, not going from house to house, 365 days a year. Gosh!

These Americans, they even have a system of contracts. And here the terms and conditions are settled by word of mouth. The wages, of course, depend on the number of persons in the family, the guests visiting them, the kids in the family, the number of rooms… The remuneration includes, besides the cash, the ‘tyohaari’ during Holi, Deepavali and other occasions.

If it’s a country with such equity, I’m sure the maids in America can sit on the same chairs that family-members use. It is not only so humiliating sitting on the floor or on a discarded piece of furniture here, but so uncomfortable, particularly on very cold days. But we bear with it, without even a thought of protesting. We remind ourselves that ours is after all a country with feudal genes.

Don’t some of them, even in these modern days, inquire about our caste before assigning us chores such as cooking and dish-washing? They have, however, no qualms about eating out in weddings and restaurants; just imagine!

My son was reading in his book something about ‘we the people’, giving us equality of status and opportunity, and asked me its meaning. I told him I was not so well-read as he was, having had only elementary education. But my experience of life tells me that equality is always a relative term.

Didn’t I hear one of my employers, that vakil saheb, telling someone the other day that it is in equal circumstances that there is a provision of equal treatment? But at least we can have the very basic provisions. My mother was recounting those good old days when her family lived in the out-house of the saheb’s big bungalow. But these days, to work in these cramped apartments is such a trouble.

Just think, I even avoid drinking too much water lest I have to search for places outside to relieve myself: the toilets in their houses are out of bounds for us.

My mother’s times were certainly better. Residing in the same premises as the employer, she could manage and keep an eye on her house too. And here we are, leaving our homes early in the morning to return briefly at noon (some of my friends not even then) and then leave again to return past 10 p.m.

Wonder how I would have managed had my daughter not been there to prepare meals for all of us and look after her siblings. Isn’t it good that she has taken to the tasks so well and so early? Remember, she is only 11. She is so good at art and sewing! I know she wants to be regular at school and take up some other work rather than being a domestic servant when she grows up.

But then, can we afford it? Don’t I want it myself, to give the kids a better life than mine? Why else do I engage myself in this drudgery?

And your employers — well some of them are good, no doubt, but how their visage changes when you ask for a day off! As if we or someone close to us doesn’t get unwell or we don’t have our own chores. Every working person has a day in a week off, but we can’t even think of it.

They may splurge, but all hell breaks loose if we ask for a minor raise. I am not sure if it’s thriftiness, or just ego, that stops them from increasing our pay. Whatever it may be, don’t we also deserve a raise corresponding to the rise in living costs all over, and their incomes? They raised such a hullabaloo over that incident about this officer, but has a single word ever been uttered about the exploitation of domestic workers who migrate for work to other countries.

Leave that aside. Has anybody given a thought to those in our own country? If only somebody would!

skandshukla@yahoo.com

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