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Who said my housemaid is a slave, she's a slave-driver!

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UMA KESAVAN

She staked claim to anything not used for a couple of weeks at home. Loans were her fundamental right

Aren't we ladies going overboard painting bright halos around the collective heads of housemaids? I had to rub my eyes when I read about the slogging, slaving housemaid ( The Hindu, Open Page May 2). Here is why. Allow me to present my maid.

A neatly dressed woman in her mid thirties, she made and marred my day for 10 years. She had a rather wide window (from 7a.m. to 11a.m.) to walk in for work. We were just two, and the household chores take about an hour. She got a decent pay (always paid one day ahead of the first of every month) plus a month's salary as bonus for Diwali. Any work other than normal was extra. I don't celebrate my birthday but hers was celebrated. That and her wedding anniversary gifts bloated the cost to the company i.e., me!

The workload depended on her mood. “I'm not feeling good, shall I mop the floor tomorrow? Can we wash the clothes in the machine today? I have a frightful headache,” were oft-heard dialogues; never mind the fact that I always pitched in whenever there was more work.

When she walked in late for work (which was almost every other day) I'd carefully rearrange my countenance lest she takes offence and fling the vessels around and/or break a few glasses.

When she broke the baffle arm of the grinder or the glass lid of the rice cooker, I counted up to a million or drank eight glasses of water because a beep out of me would send her brooding for a week. When the coconut scraper went missing she convinced me that I threw it in the garbage along with the coconut shell. A sharp-tongued woman, she'd talk me into anything/talk herself out of anything.

She made her own tea with, believe me, 4 teaspoonful of sugar, drank from the bubble top, broke her fast with the idlis or pongal I made (I make the best pongal under the sun is the verdict!) She got me to bake her kid's birthday cakes, fruit salads, and God knows what else without as much as a ‘thank you'.

She had the first right to my used or the not-so-used saris. “I have a wedding to attend and I don't have a silk sari.” She staked claim to anything not used for a couple of weeks at home (be it a PC monitor, a fridge, a bicycle or a gas stove). Loans were her fundamental right. Pooh-poohing the concept of living within one's means, she'd ask for loans for the most ridiculous reasons. Most of the time I'd yield as she frequently used her tears, or lecture me on how wretched poverty is. She is the co-owner of two pucca houses in the Chennai metropolitan area, her husband is a skilled labour (who doesn't drink), her son, a school dropout brings in some money from a part-time job and she herself worked in 3/4 houses. But she was always in the red. The smile when I tip her for a job well done would disappear the moment she puts it away. As far as money was concerned, she was an Oliver Twist.

When her daughter attained puberty, she invited the entire neighbourhood for a sumptuous dinner, bought her teenaged son (who sports a French beard and a steel stud in one ear) a motorbike costing Rs. 40,000, on which he zips around with his girlfriend. When her mother-in law died (when the lady was alive my maidservant would not give her the time of day) they had three different bands for the last journey. She attended all the functions in her neighbourhood, even as I floundered, claimed that her “ moi (gift) was a minimum Rs.100. She'd justify all her expenses. I put up with her because she was clean and did a good job. She knew that she had me by the jugular and resorted to carpet bombing now and then. “I think I'll stop working. My husband doesn't want me to,” etc., etc.

On the last day of a hot summer month when the house was teeming with guests, she took her pay and asked for a Rs.1,000 loan. I said a rare ‘no' and she did not turn up for work the next day. It was blackmail pure and simple. Never for a moment did I regret all the material things I had given her for 10 long years. We had always treated her decently both as a woman and as a fellow human being. That hurt me. I had given her the whip, a slave-driver's whip and it was time to rectify the blunder. Taking a deep breath, I firmly deleted both her mobile numbers from my cellphone. I picked the broom and the mop. I broke the household chores into small capsules and dealt with them one by one. At the end of the day, the house was gleaming. It was exhilarating as I'd even managed to arrange some fresh flowers on the centre table, though every bone in my ageing body groaned. I had broken the shackles and it felt good. Not exactly a fool, I knew I could not do it everyday. But if push comes to shove, I knew I could do it. Never again was I going to allow my misplaced sympathy to do me in. I promptly found two maids in her place, paid them well, treated them as maids, nothing more nothing less. I rest my case.

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