I had a maid.
Tall dark and ugly. She could have carved a niche for herself on TV enacting Surpanaka, Hidimbi and Putana. Instead she chose to come to work for me. She looked so menacing, I cringed, but I convinced myself that appearances could be deceptive and let her into my house and my life.
She was not just efficient. She was super efficient. Whether she did the things I told her to or not, she definitely did things I did not ask her to.
She watered my plants every day, even the ones that did not need watering daily. When I told her not to do so, she took to watering them before I woke up. She stopped only when I laid a trap for her, caught her in the act, and all but told her that I would dock her pay if any of my plants died.
She claimed to be an excellent cook, but the food was always cooked to her taste. She never seemed to remember to put fewer chilies, and happily polished off all the food that we left because it was too hot for our taste.
She would stuff my children with junk food when they were not hungry, and use that as an excuse if they did not eat at mealtimes. When I told her to stop letting them snack, she was still not able to feed them their meals and I often found half eaten rotis and dal-sabji mix in the garbage bin.
When I sent her shopping for vegetables, she always claimed there was only one bunch of methi leaves left at the stall. It took me three weeks to figure out that she did not get two bunches as I asked her to because she did not want to clean all those leaves.
She spoke about the kids she had taken care of in her previous jobs so often, I was sure I would burst if I heard another word about either of them. I often wondered why, when she seemed to care for them so much, she did not show any sign of affection towards my kids? I continued to hope – maybe she would grow to love them with time.
She would often be brewing her third tumbler of tea while the husband was heating his only cup in the microwave. The poor man never complained – he knew how dependent I was on her.
Sometimes I just wanted to press the mute button- get her to stop up, tell her I was not interested in her mundane thoughts and commonplace experiences. But I pretended to be interested – far from perfect though she was, I did not want her to leave.
Then my older son had to be hospitalized the day before she was to take her monthly break if two days. I asked her to postpone it, even offered to give her an extra day off if she did, but she would not budge. She had planned to leave in the evening, and in the evening she would leave – she was not even willing to see the night through and leave in the morning. The only concession she made was to agree to stay home with the younger one till the husband reached home – so grudging was she in agreeing to that, I wondered if she had been planning to just abandon him at home so she could leave when planned.
We survived the crisis, as we always do. She had a whole bunch of stories to explain why she had to leave when she did, and I pretended to believe them only to avoid a conflict. A week later, she informed me that her mother was ill and that she would take a four to five days off the following month after her payday. More than two days off in a month was not a part of the deal, and if she hadn’t been willing to compromise on her leave, neither would I.
I asked her to leave.
The next one was as different from the first as could be.
Thirty-five years old, either widowed or abandoned – I never found out which – she seemed to be fond of the kids. She established herself as an important member of the family from the day she arrived. I was told exactly which vegetables she liked and disliked and was encouraged to buy the ones she liked even if none of us would be caught dead eating those. When she fell ill, which was pretty often, I had to rush out whatever the time of the day to get her the particular brand of medicine that she said would make her well again.
My blood would boil when I saw her lounging on the sofa in her sleeveless nighties, but I never said anything because she would have the kids on her lap. She claimed never to sleep in the afternoons – she spent them on the sofa, with her feet up, the radio on her mobile turned so loud she never heard the children if they cried out in their sleep.
She ironed precisely when it told her not to, took decisions on whether we should have roti or rice for dinner depending on what was in the fridge (I never have rice, the husband never has rotis), and insisted that aloo paranthas should only be made her way (by mashing the potatos into the flour before making the dough).
She as plain lazy, and desperate though I was, I knew she could not last. When I called up the agency to demand a replacement, I was told that she would work better if I fed her more than just two rotis a meal. I felt like telling the agency about how I was fool enough to buy karelas solely for her consumption, but contented myself with informing them about how in the last several generations nobody in either my family or my husband’s had been stingy about food for the domestic help.
Two days after that, she left my younger kid alone at home when she went down to pick up the older one. Rudeness I was willing to put up with, lies I could pretend to ignore, but I would not someone negligent looking after my kids. An hour later, she was out of the house.
I now manage without full-time help. It is not easy. Sometimes I do not dust for days. Often, the bed gets made only at noon. I seem to be either hanging out clothes, or folding them, or ironing them, or putting them away all day long. But I do not mind – my home is my own, I can do anything I want to.
It is only when I am ill that I miss not having someone take care of me. Someone who can make me a cup of warm soup, when I can barely drag myself out of bed. Someone who can keep the kids entertained when I sleep it off. Then I remind myself of how my maid took off when my son was in hospital, and I tell myself I am much better off without a maid.
But when they invent a robo-maid that does what you tell it to, and shuts itself off when not needed, you can bet I would be queuing up to acquire one.