Monday, November 28, 2005

Lost in translation

I'm going to be honest: I hate my maid.

It's not that she's (just) incompetent. It's that she...senses my weakness, and goes in for the kill.

In America, it's quite uncommon to employ someone to cook or clean or wash clothes for you. These are all routine daily chores that you somehow squeeze in between work and play and...well, life. Furthermore, the history of the States is such that many domestic workers were either indentured servants/slaves, or are immigrants who are grossly underpaid and mistreated. So I've never been exposed to this scenario, and yet I am too lazy to wash my trousers and unmentionables.

M appeared from nowhere and offered to be our help; S jumped to take advantage of her services. He gave her basic instructions, bought cleaning supplies, and went on his merry way -- ah, the working world. I, of course, lingered in bed, reading the newspaper, sipping tea, and making sure that she didn't steal any of our possessions (which, for the time being, are little more than two mattresses, an electric kettle, curtains and a few cane chairs borrowed from our landlord).

After some perfunctory sweeping, she comes and sits down on the edge of the mattress, and pulls a bidi from the folds of her sari. I glare at her, and she refrains from smoking, but begins expounding in Hindi.

"Mera husband insert unintelligible Hindi here"...

I shrugged. She lingered, I tried to focus on the newspaper, and eventually she left for the day -- without washing clothes.

S explained to M that we are paying her to do x, y and z, and she falls into line. Until he again leaves.

This week, S is in Punjab. After five minutes of sweeping, a quick rinse of the laundry, I heard M in the kitchen. She's tossing peanuts into her mouth by the handful and I want to shout or cry or both. Do I overlook this, because she's clearly hungry, and I have more than enough food in my cupboard? Or do I castigate her for helping herself to what she does not own?

I chose to do nothing. Which, in retrospect, was the wrong choice.

Because next, she turned on the geyser and took a shower. And used my soap. And used my shampoo.

I didn't say anything, because deep in my heart...I know that she just wants to feel clean, or try a different soap, and she deserves these amenities as a fundamental right. But not in my house.

When she asked me to make her tea, I turned bright red. Gestured to the door. And refused to respond to her.

I am ashamed of myself for not doing more for her, for not paying her more money. But I also want to be treated as any other employer would be treated. My white skin should not represent money or affluence or the good life. My inability to string together a perfect Hindi sentence should not mean that I am taken advantage of at every turn.

It's quite difficult to be perpetually caught between shame and anger. Shanti, shanti...shanti.


Rim said...

Shanti TF shanti.... yet 1 thing - u'd said-" know that she just wants to feel clean, or try a different soap, and she deserves these amenities as a fundamental right. But not in my house." --- If everybody starts thinkin like this, where will these people go?

Anonymous said...

She's taking advantage of your American guilt. You have to assert yourself over your own house, or she'll keep doing it.

mike said...

geze. that's ridiculous. M's gotta go.

we need to get rid of gita too. it shouldn't take two weeks to do a single load of laundry right?