One fine day, I woke up and decided that I would open my blog to a wider commenting population. Thus far, the privilege to comment was limited to those with Blogger log-ins. I just liked it that way because the incompleteness of a comment without a name attached to it bothered me.
But then, I thought it would be interesting to get more diverse points of view. Also, the voices of real life friends and family who do happen to read my blog, regularly and irregularly, never get heard because most of them are either too lazy to get themselves a Blogger login or incapable of keeping it going.
I have been blogging for over a year and a half now and I have never got a single comment that was less than polite and supportive, even when the commenter was disagreeing with what I had written. I knew there were trolls out there, unleashing their random bitterness on some of the bloggers I read but given my experience, I misguidedly thought that I would be spared from that. I even thought the post that I was opening up to these comments was a fairly innocuous one, unlikely to get passions high and nasty – how can a post about my maids do that, I naively thought. Hah! Could I have been more mistaken? In a nutshell, I have been accused of being an employer of child labour, user of archaic, demeaning words like ‘maid’, author of a bourgeois account of my servant management skills and overall a shameless inhuman. I kid you not, read the comments if you don’t believe me.
My first reaction was to laugh at them – these silly, rude people, who knew nothing about my life and circumstances coming by only to hurl ridiculous accusations at me – but then as I lived with these comments in my head for the last one week, something about them bothered me. I felt that these people were coming in from some completely different universe and trying to judge me, my choices and my words based on benchmarks that are completely irrelevant in my world. So, this doesn’t come from a need to defend myself (for what?) but an attempt to provide a context to my choices, with respect to my maids.
Here are some of the broad themes that people expressed their disagreements on and my take on each of them:
I think a couple of people politely put it down to cultural differences. I agree there are differences, not all of them cultural and here’s why I think having domestic help is a much more common phenomenon here in India:
- I think the biggest reason is that in India, maids are available and affordable. Maybe the idea seems so alien to Westerners because it is not even a possibility in their world.
- Most of us have grown up either in joint families or with live-in help and are much less protective of our personal space and privacy.
- Keeping a house in running order is much tougher here. India is a pretty dusty country and we don’t have sealed houses with central cooling/ heating and a thorough daily cleaning is required to keep the house liveable and hygienic rather than the fortnightly cleaning that is adequate in the West.
- Working life can be harder in India, especially for working mothers. Our concept of work-life balance is still not very evolved and working hours can often be undisciplined. With this as a background, it becomes that much tougher to run a house single-handedly, while holding down a full-time job.
- Indian men are not as helpful around the house as their Western counterparts and most of the responsibility falls on the already over-loaded shoulders of the wife and mother. Combine this with the previous point about working hours and it’s a nearly impossible task to manage without maids.
- I have not come across too many good day care options. Also, I personally prefer that my son is cared for in a loving, consistent way by familiar people in the comfort of my own home rather than some institutionalised setting of a day care, especially since I can afford it. And I think most Indian mothers feel that way.
Edit: Dotmom disagrees and makes some excellent points on how it is just as hard in the U.S. I agree with most of what she says - life as a working mom is not easy anywhere, esecially without help.
Accusations on using child labour
Some of the anonymous commenters accuse me of using child labour. Here are some things these people should know before they throw around such accusations:
- The law in India puts the age for child labour to be under fourteen. I live in India and Jamuna is way above 14 years of age so I am not breaking any laws.
- You may wonder why I am being so vague about revealing Jamuna’s actual age. Here’s the thing, I don’t know. She is definitely looks over 16, might even be 18 but nobody knows – neither she nor her family know her date of birth or even remember the year she was born, which might give you some insight into what kind of life she has had back in her village.
- It’s all very well to climb onto a high horse and say that a person below 18 years should not be employed as a maid. But let me paint you a picture of what her life in the village would be – she would have to wake up at the crack of dawn and her days would be full of backbreaking, hard work including tending to the cattle, helping her mother in the kitchen and fetching water from the village well. As a girl child, her nutrition is not a priority and seeing her as a burden, her parents would seek the first opportunity to marry her off. Now compare that to her life in my home: her workload consists of playing with Ayaan, keeping the house clean and washing the few clothes that don’t get dumped in the washing machine; she gets to sleep for nine hours in the night and also gets the chance to grab an afternoon nap on most days; she gets wholesome, nutritious food; she is getting a little slice of her childhood back when she plays with Ayaan – she enjoys his toys and games as much as he does….and most importantly, since we take care of all her needs and pay her a salary, her parents are in no tearing hurry to marry her off. Will someone please tell me what is so inhuman about this situation?
- Someone mentioned that I should be taking care of her education. That was what I had in mind initially but it didn’t work out. To start with, she has not attended a single day of school in her entire life and has not even been taught simple things like how to tell the time. Secondly, I have been unable to find any institution that offers adult education in my area – if someone has any information on this, please let me know. Thirdly, she is likely to be with me for just a couple of years before her parents marry her off – in that short a time-frame, there is not much that she can learn but Shashikala has been teaching her the Hindi alphabet and she atleast knows how to write her name.
It seemed to bother quite a few people that I use, according to them, archaic and derogatory terms like ‘maid’ and ‘nanny’. In my humble opinion, political correctness for the sake of it is just silly and a waste of everyone’s time and breath. I know of a company where the receptionist has a visiting card that says ‘First Impressions Manager’ – not only is it ridiculous and changes nothing of the nature of her job, the person at the receiving end of the title found it pretty embarrassing too!
Would it make any difference to anyone except these self-appointed governors of political correctness if I called them ‘child care service providers’ or ‘personnel in-charge of underage homo-sapiens’ (thanks for those witty options, Anita)? The only thing that should matter is whether the person herself/ himself is offended and I can assure you that my maids have absolutely no problem or negative associations with the abovementioned words. There are words like ‘bai’ and naukrani’ from Hindi that some of them do find a little demeaning, but I don’t use words like that… what is rude, offensive or archaic is somewhat culture specific, isn’t it?
Not trusting other working moms
It was pointed out that I was being a bit of a fraud by not considering women with small children for the job, given that I am working mom with a young child myself, expecting to be treated as equally as my male or child-free colleagues. I completely agree with this logical and polite commenter that I am being unfair but whether we like it or not, life is still not very fair for working mothers, no matter what their socio-economic circumstances.
Even in the most professional and evolved of organisations, you do lose some of your value and employability once you have a kid. Ability and commitment being equal, most bosses would still prefer a man or a woman without kids – and at some level, I accept that. Ever since Ayaan was born, he always comes first for me and that puts me at a disadvantage with people who are willing to put work above all else.
The same thing applies when I am looking for someone who will care for my kid – I want someone for whom this will be priority. Like any other parent, I want what’s best for Ayaan. And I am not going to sacrifice the quality and consistency of his care to prove a point about what a just and fair person I am… I’d rather suffer the tag of ‘hypocrite’ than worry constantly about whether the maid will make it to work and stay all day while I am work.
Edit: Kodi's Mom added: 'It is the nature of the maid/ nanny's job to be physically present at a cerain location from hour x to hour x. It is not a job that can be accomplished over the phone and internet. Hence, it does make sense that you ensure her punctuality & attendance.' I feel silly for not thinking of that. :-)
The Content of my Post
There were some complaints about the fact that this was from my perspective and the aim of the post was to prove what a brilliant manager of domestic help I am. It seems I would have done better to write a post that was a thank you note to them or talked about the kind of lives they live. I think people who leave comments like that don’t really understand what writing a blog all is about. Here are some tips:
- This is my blog, so obviously I write about what I feel like writing about and more importantly from my perspective. While I do write for an audience (otherwise I’d just keep an offline journal), I don’t believe in writing stuff just to satisfy someone else’s idea of what I should be writing. So Yes, I could have done a tribute to my maidst, but it’s not what I felt like writing the other day. And it’s definitely not because I don’t appreciate them, but because I can think of thousands of better ways to show my appreciation than write a post in English (which they can’t read) on the internet (where they’ll never see it).
- When I write about something, I am not aiming to cover all possible aspects of the issue at hand. So don’t make assumptions based on stuff I haven’t written - for e.g. that my maids are underpaid or that I treat them with anything less than respect and dignity, because nothing in my post should lead you to jump to those unfair conclusions.
- This is an unabashedly all-out mommy blog, where I write about my life as a mother and about my son. So that is the perspective you will see here. If you want a sociological perspective on the lives of the less privileged, you’ve come to the wrong place.
So that’s all I have to say on the subject for now. If there was a silver lining to this whole thing, it’s the support from the blogger friends who rushed to my defence even before I had a chance to read the brickbats. Hugs and a big thank you to Sue, Artnavy, Just Like That, Ceekay and Megha. I am touched beyond words. Maybe I'll do a thank you post for you guys ;-)