Wednesday, March 17, 2010

our lady knights

A friend fired his cook yesterday, because she was taking way too many days off and the food sucked. I am about to fire my maid too, if she shows up that is. The maid too has been missing in action, arbitrarily changing her reporting time of showing up at work and not been reliable. By all standards of performance, both are to be assigned to the CIP- Continuous Improvement Program – a term I heard some organization use recently and thereafter be asked to let go.  No matter where I was employed, would have been asked to leave as well.

On the flip side, the cook being asked to leave is only about 55 years old. Ready for retirement for a life time of pursuing leisure, hobbies and smiling at the doorway as you see grand children skipping in the courtyard. Instead she wakes up early, hale, rain or shine waits at the bus stop for the illusionary bus to appear, pays her fare and comes to the door step of my friends house. Repeats this day after day for a month to be paid Rs 600/- only with the added benefit of a saree for Diwali or something.

 Can vouch without hesitation that my friend is amongst the breed of the gentler employers, never questions leaves asked for is wonderfully non interfering, non critical, the invisible kind of employer.

(the lady in the pic wrote a best seller -her tale http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/02/books/02maid.html)

The maid I am firing is younger. Married to an alcoholic she has spent several nights below our roof with her only possession being 1 extra saree. Reason she was homeless, needed 1000 rupees to buy a new roof and had not got the savings for that to be put up. Being a migrant from Chennai meant that even acquiring a mobile to talk to her children, studying in a school far from her was an uphill battle as the basic documents of voter id/ration card/driving license were not there, since the house was not there. Such was a plight that often she would be trudging to the railway station to seek a roof over her head.

My cook is better off, relatively speaking that is. She has a pukka house. A no nonsense women she is efficient, verbose and makes no bones of getting her way in any argument.  This hard exterior is not hard to rip apart to reveal a young girl who got to Bangalore from Uttar Pradesh. The husband turned out to be yet one more monster, domestic violence was the norm and drinking her wages away an entertainment.  Managing several children she did the bravest thing she could. Sent the man back to the village, got the elder daughter to nanny the younger ones, while she cooked in several houses.

Interestingly she ensures that everyday she wears all the ornamental markings that go with being a married women, lest someone assume she was available and take advantage of her.

These are not isolated cases. Each house has a ramu/basanti/deepa/uma didi and variations of them cleaning, frying and getting the machinery of the house humming. Think more than the booming economy it is getting a Ganesh to clean the car, the Meena to cook the dinner and the Tara to wash the clothes that is the BIGGEST attraction for the return of a not so pampered NRI. 

“the maid has gone to the village”

This statement is greeted with as much anguish as someone being struck down with a heart attack. Frantic calls are made, the days to her return marked off on the calendar and trepidation filled moments lived in anticipation of her return or her disappearance, with both being equally possible as events.

Yet for all that they let us do with our lives, they get back precious little. No pf, savings, benefits or paid leave. 0 bonus or increments, at best some cast off clothes, good meals and some financial assistance for tiding over a tough patch only if there is a sympathetic boss and rightful pleading done.

What then is the solution? Get them to form a union? Get a commission to study the matter? Form something akin to labour net, that protects their rights … Maybe they are all ideas worth considering. But that is the easy route. In one stroke takes away the responsibility away from us to some third entity – the state, the workers themselves or some activist someplace to make a huge hue and cry about it.

Nah.  Don’t think that is an immediate solution. Get the alcoholic husbands to be made to work for their drinks; no drinks till you have a job??? Hahahahaa can almost hear the gongs of the state wide protests against this idea across dear Kerala.

At best, maybe what we can do is to do onto others as we would like to have done to ourselves.  Loosing a job is never easy. Heck, I for one know that and the financial impact for everyone no matter what the level of earning is a setback that takes time to get adjusted to.

For now all I have is empathy, treat your help as you would want to treat a peer in office. Free coffee and tea, some basic pay guaranteed to be on time, an increment, some praise, savings and a sense that you shall be taken care of because at the end of the day- YOU BELONG. No matter where you work, it gives u a sense of belonging to a larger community. Maybe its time we open our hearts not just our door to them.

My Miss Universe moment of the day is now over.