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My 'Bai' Is My Bane

04/07/2016 6:35 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:27 AM IST
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Much like a hurricane that hits without prior notice and on its own wretched schedule, my cleaning lady descends upon me every week. Instead of feeling jubilant at the sight of her, my blood pressure rises and spirits fall even before I can say "come in."

While her services are the thread that keep me holding on, her ever-increasing demands and almost admirable audacity to constantly claim rights on things that don't belong to her leave me in a state of awe.

Today, keeping our bais happy has become akin to keeping ourselves happy. Peace of mind starts and ends with their happiness. It's like trying to top up a bottomless barrel that requires constant replenishment. They have mastered the art of always being strapped for money, no matter how much you pay them.

"Madam, what about my bus money? I told you no, I have to change two buses to get here. What you do, madam!" is the scolding I received last week for committing the ultimate crime of doling out the right amount of money owed to her. How dare I.

There's something about her that compels me to follow her around the house, micro-managing her in ways that would put many a dominating MIL to shame.

They know you will succumb because they know you need them.

"Madam, where you get these toffees from? Can I take one? Looking yummy." How does one refuse that? Bai-1, Madam-0.

After I hid all the "yummy toffees" the next time she came around, her attention moved to better things. But not before I was asked to bring some of these magical toffees back from India the next time I travelled there.

There is no doubt that no matter which country you live in, the bai (or variants thereof, depending on your location) is a much coveted individual. While the demand hasn't exceeded supply in India, this is not the situation elsewhere and don't these ladies know it, milking it to the best of their abilities.

Now, of course there are genuine hard workers who are loyal and valuable employees, but most, sadly, will not bat an eyelid before they jump ship and leave yours to sink into domestic disarray.

Coming back to mine, her South Indian drawl though pleasant and chirpy gives away a certain opportunism and laziness. There's something about her that compels me to follow her around the house, micro-managing her in ways that would put many a dominating mother-in-law to shame.

Friends have offered their own domestic help as back-ups after hearing stories of my South Indian heroine. But I must admit that her cheerful demeanour sort of makes up for her erratic behaviour. At least she smiles, I say to myself. I know of others who walk around the house like zombies.

I wonder if she realizes who the lady of the house really is. I am certainly beginning to have my doubts!

"Madam, the washing detergent is finished. I told you to keep it ready no? And please bring the one I told you. I don't like the other one." She pulls me out of my reverie. Just as I try to muster up a retort, she speaks again. "Madam, swimming pool looks lovely from your window. Do you think since I work with you they will let me use also?" Mind. Blown.

The real cherry on the cake came during our last conversation when I finally couldn't remain calm anymore. After putting up with all her ridiculous shenanigans just so my house can get cleaned with my sanity still somewhat intact, she had the gall to call me "kanjoos", a miser, for not having the change she needed for her bus back home. It's a word she also uses when I don't comply with her outrageous demands for extra money because she chose to clean for a half hour extra of her own accord.

It's a double-edged sword to have a bai. I sometimes think that the effort of doing it all on your own is less stressful than putting up with these progressively more cunning dames that are supposed to be "help".

I wonder if she realizes who the lady of the house really is. I am certainly beginning to have my doubts!

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