It is a cool, breezy and pleasant morning. The long stretch of scorching summer has finally given way to the first spells of rain, leaving behind a heady petrichor. I stand in my balcony looking at the showers and sipping my routine elixir, a strongly brewed cup of coffee. A feeling of gratitude begins to come over me when the doorbell annoyingly rings to disrupt my enchantment with nature.
"It's a rainy day. Leela bai will not come to work today," says a messenger she has sent to relay the news. Before I can ask "why, what happened, when will she be back" he walks away.
Still standing at the door, speechless with horror, a quick trailer of an impending weekend full of guests flashes before my eyes. A basket of dishes to do, floors to sweep and mop, four meals to prepare, a load of laundry, a tidy-up (that usually lasts for a few hours before the house is reduced to its usual horrific state)... how would I manage? Worse, I have no idea when she will be back. This is a highly foreboding start to the weekend.
Leela bai is our 45-year-old domestic help; she has been tending to our daily household chores for the last one year. Clad in a sari, designer bindi, two dozen bangles and a masculine wristwatch, there's always a wad of tobacco in her mouth and a mobile in her hand. She is the most precious, most wanted woman in our apartment. And why not? She is nothing short of an inspiration. Who else can wash, clean, dust, sweep, mop and cook, at the speed of a wonder woman, sometimes in even less than an hour? By the time I'm ready to punch in my attendance in office at nine in the morning, she's already sorted out half a dozen homes in the colony.
With husband not around and Leela taking care of my house, I can easily escape into the things I love to do -- read, write, sleep for hours.
Not just that! One has to see to believe how Leela ambidextrously rolls chapattis with one hand and prepares lentils with the other, all this while talking constantly on her mobile phone, held strategically between her ears and shoulders. Fact is, no matter how many robots or multitasking apps the West comes up with, nothing can compare with the superpowers of the Indian maid.
Having made herself indispensable over time, Leela is the indisputable commander of our house. We may be far more educated and privileged than her, but she knows and sets all the rules of the employment game. She has negotiated a good monthly salary, plus festival perks, holidays at her pleasure and the leeway to throw tantrums whenever she feels like it. Either we agree or she quits... what can we do? Like a hapless (read, lazy) woman who is already battling the demands of a full-time job, school-going toddlers and a pretentiously busy spouse, I acquiesce in minutes.
Around six months ago, just as I was congratulating myself on getting her to work with us for so long, like an intelligent business woman, Leela Inc. came up with her latest strategy. She laid before me a set of conditions – biannual increments in wages (no appraisal, mind you), a hike in festival bonuses, an off every Sunday evening and the recalibration of unsanctioned absences as "earned leave". Seriously, management graduates could learn a thing or two from her negotiating skills. As for me, of course I capitulated. As long as she gets to work with us, I get to work my way. Who would let go of this comforting deal?
Besides, she also keeps my mother-in-law happy. Like a live telecast from the society's unpaid cable channel, she narrates all kinds of tales to her from our neighbourhood. The Punjabi aunty's newest brand of dye, her teenager's latest girlfriends and uncleji watching porn while the family is not around... she's the Peeping Tom poor mother-in-law must have once aspired to be. I'm sure she also knows size and colour of my lingerie for I remember her asking me to get her a similar piece because she thought "our taste and size matches!"
Lazy husband at home and no Leela? Where would that leave me? Playing career woman, nanny, chef, nurse, mom, ladylove and maid, all rolled into one.
Ultimately, despite all the ups and downs, a maid is always a woman's greatest love, dearer to her even than her husband. If I were to choose between the two, isn't it obvious who'd make the cut? With husband not around and Leela taking care of my house, I can easily escape into the things I love to do – read, write, sleep for hours. Consider the reverse: lazy husband at home and no Leela. Where would that leave me? Here's your answer: Playing career woman, nanny, chef, nurse, mom, ladylove and maid, all rolled into one. Calamitous!
It is still drizzling sweetly outside but my coffee has lost its froth. While I spend my weekend jotting down sonnets in praise of Leela bai, I do hope your equivalent of this domestic goddess shows up on time.