“Ma’am, could you please ask her to wait outside while you finish lunch…”
I was just scampering into a family Sunday brunch with the whole enchilada – the toddler twins, shopping bags, toys, infant food and me trying to do the trapeze on my stilettos, when the restaurant manager repeated his statement, (this time a tad bit louder)!
I didn’t think he was addressing me, but nevertheless, I did turn around to give him an ear. ‘Who is the “she”?’, I exclaimed.
“Ma’am, your domestic help – she will need to wait outside until you finish your meal.”
The squabble went on for a while, but I didn’t give up.
She was one of us and she most definitely deserved to sit and eat with us on that table. If I could trust my most precious creation with her, having her eat the same meal with us, irrespective of the place- was probably the least I could do.
Just pause and think about it for a bit – they are the people who’re working at making our life easier, yet the discrimination exists everywhere – in our homes, restaurants, public places, our conversations and interestingly even in the use of elevators!
Class has indeed become the new caste. Rising incomes & cheap labour means every middle-upper class family in India functions effortlessly with the help of the other ‘invisible’ class – our maids, drivers, nannies, guards. But how many of us actually care as to how their lives are?
We are so dependent on them, that our life comes to a complete stand still if they decide to take a break – yet as a nation we struggle to treat them equally. Maybe, as a society, if we respected labour of any kind, we’d treat people better.
These are the people that keep our children safe, clean, entertained, energized – allowing us to pursue lives and careers the way we choose to. We don’t think twice before we commit to a dinner invite because we know they are there – most times their care and observations supersede ours. These are the people that put our children before their own lives. I remember this one time, when just before we were scheduled to go on a holiday, Deepa got a call from her village saying her 9 year old had slipped and broken his leg. I offered to drop her to her village to be with her son. She refused.
“How will you manage both by yourself?” she asked. “It’s OK. My mother-in law will manage things in the village, and I can go once we are back” was her response. I had tears in my eyes.
Here was a lady that was selflessly placing my comfort and needs before her own with absolutely no hesitation.No job is worth that. Maybe even I would hesitate to do it at my workplace!
In the last couple of years, I have watched friends and acquaintances discuss nanny problems endlessly. There will always be a ‘but’ in the ‘She’s good…’ statement; a list of things they just cannot tolerate – mobile usage, cleanliness, organizing skills, demands, etc. But I strongly believe – it’s still a very small price we pay for the love and care a stranger extends to us when we need it the most. We expect our nannies to be a certain way because we pay them a salary. But most nannies – good nannies, if we will but let ourselves see it – work hard if you treat them with the same decency you’d show another human being.
While society is progressing in this space and there are a lot of people out there that treat domestic help as equals, the gap still exists. Housing societies have special elevators for service staff and restaurants insist that they wait outside while you finish your meal. But it’s up to us to change that. Let’s start small:
- Open a fixed deposit account for them, they could use the funds at a later time.
- Help support their family in whichever way you can – education being the most important.
- Teach them like you would teach your own – the importance of savings, cleanliness, general etiquette.
- Avoid using phrases like “these people” or “yeh log aise hi hote hain”?
- Avoid addressing them as ‘ayah’, instead call them either by their name, ‘didi, ‘amma’, ‘mausi’ or like my matching two address her – ‘deedla’
- Think twice before you discriminate on utensils they use and food you offer. These things don’t come with tags – avoid creating the class tag on them.
- Give them a break or take them out for a pampering session. They probably need it more than we do.
- Don’t constantly be irritable with them, there will be times of annoyance and anger, but control and explain.
- Invest in their skill development or a hobby they would like to pursue – learning a language, cooking, stitching, etc. Aarti Sabharwal, a delhi based culinary expert conducts workshops regulary or you can also check out the recently launched app DekhoSeekho, which aims to upskill domestic workers skills across various categories.
- Celebrate their happy moments and share the sadness as if they were yours.
- Take care of their health needs – regular health checkups and medical benefits.
- Make it a safe and secure working environment for them. If you are able to trust them with your most precious creation, make sure they feel safe, secure and comfortable in and outside of your home.
There may always be a pinch– of annoyance here, of insecurity there. There will also be instances where your experience with them might not be anywhere close to good. You can’t help it; Nobody is perfect and there’s always an exception to the rule. Smile and refrain from commenting every time. Look at the bigger picture and perhaps give them a seat at your next family brunch table!