This Is India: The Help
One of the hardest parts about living in India for me is having domestic help. Most of my life I’ve been intensely private, so having a stranger lingering in my house 24 hours a day is a bit of a change. Before moving here we wondered if having help would be necessary. In the US we have no problem cooking our meals, cleaning our house, or driving ourselves anywhere we want to go. So we wouldn’t we need those luxuries here, right?
There are some realities of India at play here:
1) India is a hot and dirty place. You need your windows open and your fans on just about all day (or you close it all up and run your AC). You have to mop the floors daily and dust all horizontal surfaces or become very comfortable with walking on a layer of dust.
2) Indian food is time consuming to make and kitchens are not air conditioned. Toiling away in a hot kitchen for a few hours after a day at the office isn’t as fun as it sounds, but my wife still does it very often.
3) Driving in India is hard. Not only are there millions of other cars on the road, but most of them are driven by career drivers who have complete disregard for the actual rules of the road. So if you’re not being cut off by someone you’re probably sitting in a traffic jam for a few hours, not moving.
So the hiring starts in an innocent manner. Maybe you’ll hire someone to clean everyday. They’ll stop by the house in the morning – on their route of several other jobs – dust, sweep the floor, then mop, and they’re gone in maybe an hour or two. This is pretty cheap too, and definitely worth paying for.
The next notion is finding someone to wash your clothes. Some people have washers, but that is rare, and i have yet to see a dryer. The norm is washing all the clothes by hand, then hanging them out to dry. You can’t do a lot of clothes at one time this way, so someone usually will do this daily. Once dry, you need to iron the clothes (go ahead, dry something outside once and see how it looks afterward). So everything gets ironed, yes, even my underwear. Often this will be separated into two groups – iron at home or send to get ironed. Almost every neighborhood will have an ironing guy who has a shack and spends his days ironing. Drop the clothes off, and a couple days later, he’ll bring them by all nice and pressed, then, you pay him. The washing person could be the same person who cleans the house or someone new – there are advantages either way. Make it a combo job and you’re dealing with less new people roaming the house everyday and probably can get a discount, but if that person is sick then two jobs don’t get done.
Then you’ll start thinking about the food and getting someone to cook. Often you can find a cook to come in the morning and make all the food for the day, then leave. Finishing their job in a couple hours. You have to know what you want or else be fine with getting something you REALLY don’t want. The amount you pay these people is often little enough that it seems a bit dumb NOT to do it.
In time you’ll consider getting a person who can clean, wash clothes and cook – a live in maid. Seems ideal, right? Get someone to do all this stuff and the only catch being they sleep on your floor and eat some of your food. What could go wrong? Well, maybe they like to hang out on the corner and talk to other maids about what goes on in your house… Or maybe they see some money lying on the table one day and it disappears… Or you go for vacation and you come back and they’ve disappeared… Basically a lot can go wrong.
Every once in a while we feel we have all of this under control. The food is tasting good, the house is in order, and the clothes aren’t turning funny shades of pink, but more often then not it’s just a pile of frustration.
It’s easy to get sucked in to the myth of the perfect maid – organized, makes wonderful tea, amateur chef, quiet, and a real bargain too… but I’m starting to wonder if such a person even exists.