Who is to blame?

A middle class Indian home dissolves into utter chaos if the maid fails to show up.

During the recent transport strike in Bengaluru, our maids did not turn up for work for three days. This naturally led to a discussion as to how we should deal with the situation.

A middle class Indian household dissolves into utter chaos if the maid fails to show up for a single day. And, now, it was three days in succession. Vessels piled up in the sinks, clothes soaked in buckets of soap water awaited the healing touch of the maid’s hands.
Now, one might ask if the housewife couldn’t have got through some of the chores herself. Not that she absolutely could not, being an able-bodied person. Household chores are not that challenging or backbreaking what with our new gadgets and the latest detergents and magic dishwashing soaps which are advertised round the clock on TV.

Actually, it is a question of mindset and a streak of meanness in most of us employers. My next door maami represented the majority view, as it were. “She could have come in an auto or a private bus which were running full throttle, according to the newspapers. This Lakshmi has just taken advantage of the situation, the lazy girl. I will call her tomorrow to get here somehow. It’s her lookout; I won’t spare her, especially after the pay rise she has taken only last month.”

Miss Vishalam, a retired school teac-her, said she was just going to cut Ratna’s salary for three days and that would tea-ch her a lesson. And so on and so forth.

The last to speak was Mena, a new age working wife who left her flat at 7.30 in the morning, before which her maid had to make an appearance and get the work done in lightning speed to enable her mistress to leave the house on time. This was the new breed of employer who allowed her maid the same leisure and rights as she would want for herself. How much she paid her was the last thing on her mind. 

“And what about these three days?” maami asked Mena archly. “Well, I managed. I didn’t suffer too much. I wouldn’t cut Lizzie’s salary or scold her for not coming, the poor woman with her drunkard husband and her two kids at home. She has enough misery already, I think.” 

The majority did not accept this view. “Leniency will make them worse,” harangued maami. “After all, they are paid to do their job and if they fail to do their duty, if they cheat us, we should punish them, Mena. I told Lakshmi I was not going to pay her for nothing. No work, no pay,” she said. Duty is duty, they all echoed in one voice.

So far, I had not said a word. Finally, my take went like this. It was a breakdown of the system; so, how can the maids be blamed for it? Blame the transport department which failed to ply the daily routes or blame the government for not complying with the transport workers’ demands, blah, blah, blah. And my final punch to maami – “Maami, why do you grudge your maid her three days of escape from sheer drudgery?” What’s your take on this vital issue, reader?

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