OR Crazy Must Be God.
This post is a week overdue. Between reading and travelling and shopping, I don’t get much time to come online. Yay for that.
So I was a tad pissed two weeks back. Colin Mochrie and Brad Sherwood were performing in Bangalore, and entry was by ‘Invite Only’… only, the invites weren’t quite open to public. Adding salt to my wounds was that my friends in Calcutta snagged tickets for the same show… it was only in Bangalore that there was some kirrick happening which made the show more of a private party.
And then Amma pointed to an ad in the paper about Crazy Mohan performing his play Chocolate Krishna at Chowdiah on Sunday. I called the number in the ad. They said they had tickets available, which I immediately blocked. After I’d made doubly, triply, quadruply sure that I have the tickets (the lady on the other end got rather flustered just telling me my tickets weren’t going anywhere), I said ‘Gah! Who needs Colin and Brad when I have Crazy Mohan and Maadhu Balaji for six hours straight”. And grinned ear to ear.
Flashback a year. Crazy Mohan was performing Chocolate Krishna at Gayana Samaj. On a Sunday. Gayana Samaj’s phone number was out of order. And the website to book tickets was malfunctioning. And, most importantly, I was stuck debugging code until 11 pm on Saturday night. I’d missed that performance. And felt very bad.
Flashback twenty-odd years. I was a toddler. The entire clan was out for a movie, me in Amma’s arms. That was the first-ever movie I’d watched. I didn’t really follow anything, given that I barely had learned to speak… but I laugh at those jokes even today. Kamal Haasan in four roles. Mentally-ill industrialist. Sneaky secretaries. Cases of mistaken identity, aaL-maarattam. Confusion. Madness. Chaos. In other words, CrazyMohan-ness. Loved it.
Flashback fifteen-odd years. This time, it’s my sister who’s the first-time moviegoer. Kamal Haasan again, this time in two roles. Lovelorn landlords, lovelorn industrialists. Sneaky secretaries. Sticky-fingered household help. Drunk makeup artistes. Iyer-ness. In sum, CrazyMohan-ness. Totally loved it.
For the uninitiated, Crazy Mohan (Sometimes credited as ‘Gracy’ Mohan, in true Tamizh tradition of muddling up ‘ka’/'ga and ‘cha’/'ja’ and ‘tha/dha’) is a scriptwriter in the Tamil film industry. He has to his credit a lot of films like Arunachalam, Little John, Magalir Mattum and Indran Chandran, but he is known best for his comedies starring Kamal Haasan – Thenali, Michael Madana Kaamarajan, Panchatantiram, Sathi Leelavathi, Avvai Shanmughi… basically every damn movie which when relayed on TV stops all fights for the remote between my sister and I.
With his group Crazy Creations, he stages plays, which someone like me who’s living outside of Tamil Nadu knows about only because the stories get adapted and relayed on TV… they used to make for rather popular TV shows.
So when they were promoting Chocolate Krishna on Coffee with Anu, we all watched with rapt attention. A rather fun bunch of people, sharing anecdotes about each other. And then an interview of Mr. Mohan himself.
I didn’t know till then that he was an engineer too. Back then, when I was still wondering about what to do in life and whether engineering, even of the software sort suited me, it struck a chord with me. [And no, the fact that Chetan Bhagat is an engineer doesn't do anything to me].
So you sort of get why I was all excited about going to this live performance…. this was someone I’d been worshipping since my first taste of celluloid. The reasons stretch to more than just that he was a funny engineer. I’ll come to those a while later.
Malleswaram is on an average day full of people in Iyengar naamam and Hebbar Iyengar Tamizh [this is a tongue which uses the grammatical structure and sentence endings of Tamil, with most of the vocabulary being Kannada. Like "En magan-ku kaayle bandhudtu" or "Paath-kond vaa ma, neeru challidum"], but today was exceptional. More Tambrahms than you would find at the Srirangam temple on Vaikunta Ekadashi.
And for good reason. From what I’ve seen, Tambrahms form an integral part of Crazy Mohan’s fanbase. Not only is it because of the sort of language he uses, or the subjects he picks, but also because he is one of the very, very few scriptwriters who portrays Tambrahms as actual people. Most others choose to vilify us, highlight and lampoon and parody our customs, language and social structure, mostly going to the extent of highly exaggerating and manufacturing the ills of our community. Crazy Mohan on the other hand portrays us as People. People with the usual ups and downs and quirks and lovableness. For once, we don’t have to see a Tambrahm on screen as a vile bastard poisoning the villain’s mind, or a wicked witch looking down upon (and/or torturing) people of ‘lower’ castes, or sneakily eating meat. And hence, if there’s a Rangachari or Swaminathan in a movie where Crazy Mohan’s the scriptwriter, we can be more than confident of it being a portrayal we are comfortable with, not one where we look away bashfully when others look quizzically at us, wondering if all non-Brahm women who marry into Tambrahm households are routinely tortured, or if we all routinely practice untouchability with the household help.
It is however not just casteism that drives us all to set aside a Saturday afternoon whenever a film of his releases. Atleast not me…. his brand of humour with vile puns and wordplay is something I myself practice, possibly as a side-effect of watching his movies religiously for years and years.
But unlike me, he doesn’t stop with that. A typical Crazy Mohan story will have atleast a dozen convolutions, two dozen absurd situations which you will totally not buy if it was any other movie, and layers and layers of jokes a new one of which you’ll unravel with every time you watch the movie. And watch it repeatedly you will… the whole experience is extremely feel-good.
No other scriptwriter can convince you that three grown men will be in contention for a wizened lady well past her prime. No other scriptwriter can subtly put it across with dollops of humour that you need to put your wife above your friends. No other scriptwriter can make the saga of a husband jealous of his wife’s male friend (due to, of course, mistaken identities and two-three people with the same names) so funny that you cruelly want to watch him fall flat on his face when he discovers that his wife is not actually cheating on him; it’s just that the male friend’s girlfriend has the same name as his wife.
The most absurd lines sound so in-place and in-character in his scripts. Like when someone says “This is my son Uppili”, the other guy awkwardly asks “So… you married Uppili’s mother”. Or when someone enthusiastically says “Maadhu, Janaki writes a lot of Letters to the Editor… have you read any of them?”, and Maadhu replies with an earnest “I don’t read letters meant for others”, you are more inclined to laugh than to dismiss the exchange as lame.
And the best part is all the humour is all-inclusive. Never once do you feel any of the humour is at the expense of any person or groups of people. Or something you have to be above a certain age to fully appreciate. No double-meaning, no bait-and-switch… though that’d be so easy to do to draw some laughs. He actually takes the trouble to go back to the basics to provide some laughs.
Due to which a lot of his themes are very recurrent. A lot of his jokes are, too. When I got back from watching Chocolate Krishna and looked on Youtube for more of his stuff, I came across many different episodes with the same jokes as I’d heard that evening. The basic stories he works on too are reused often, with minor tweaks and edits here and there.
I’m not complaining, though. It’s nice to watch the same old Marriage Made in Saloon or Maadhu+2 refurbished. We all know the basic story, so we set those worries aside and concentrate on the jokes they slip in, the way the plot is adapted for changing times, and the minor tweaks they make that pleasantly surprise us.
One thing I deeply admire Crazy Mohan for is his ability to deal with even the most serious subjects and tragicky endings with a lighthearted style. I remember this one story where two doppelgangers vie for the affections of the same woman. The tragic ending was that this lady falls victim to a terminal illness when both the men say they’ll ‘sacrifice’ her for the other and she dies alone. While this would ordinarily have been depressing coming at the end of a story full of funny antics at outdoing the other, with Crazy Mohan’s treatment it took on a rather hilarious tone – the disease she suffers from is a ‘headache in the foot’ or something similar, and the two doppelgangers pretending to be the other. He however gave a ‘happy ending’, where there turns out to be a doppelganger of the lady too!
That was a minor episode for TV…. but Avvai Shanmughi was a take on divorce, Sathi Leelavathi about extra-marital affairs… remember the deep dialogues between Kamal Haasan and Heera Rajagopal where he gently points out that her boyfriend treats her as just a ‘keep’, he never takes her out to public places or official or family gatherings… and asks if she really wants to go on living like this.
The thing is, he never dwells on those bits for too long… it’s the sort of thing you’ll think about if you want to. And ignore it and laugh if you aren’t in the mood to. Not in-your-face, not provocative. Just a feel-good experience for everyone.
Back to Chocolate Krishna, the plot here wasn’t as convoluted and tangled as his usual plotlines. You could say it was low on story. He didn’t however scrimp on jokes. It was, as promised, 100 jokes in 100 minutes. Which were all so tautly woven into the plot that it makes ill sense to try reproduce those here. In any Crazy Mohan play, there is one scene where half the people there know what’s happening and the the other half don’t, and those in the know are trying to not be found out, which leads to a scene full of pun and wordplay. There was one such scene here too, but compared to his repertoire, it left a lot to be desired. But it was not any less funny, mind you.
All in all, Chocolate Krishna is certainly not one of Crazy Creations’ best work. It however is great to see them back and touring, giving us all a teaser of possibly awesomer work coming up next.
I sadly couldn’t stay on for another three hours to watch their Jurassic Baby…. quite possible that was their awesomer work.
However – this is the best part – I did get to speak to some of the cast, most notably Neelakantan – the old man who plays all the grandfather and astrologer roles. I told him I rather enjoy his clueless-looking performances in movies and on TV, and he talked to me like he would to a grandchild, even saying “Vaa kozhandhai…”… god, it’s rather long since someone said that to me!
And, even better, I did get to speak to Crazy Mohan. Rather a friendly person… he posed for like a zillion photographs with fans. I of course did a brilliant job of carrying along only my useless mobile camera, and didn’t even have a sheet of paper to ask for an autograph on. I think I was one of the very few who did more than just pose for pics with him… he’s rather a delight to talk to, though apparently he’s quite a shy and serious person in real life. I told him about the longtimeFan-ness and the *respect* that I automatically accord with all my heart to any engineer who writes brilliantly, which I mainly reserve for him and the late Sujatha, mainly coz I try to write too, and attempt at humour which is a pale imitation of his, but my ability to come up with strong stories and/or translate a solid story idea into something readable leaves a lot to be desired. He said I could write to him…. (which of course I had no time to do over the past week).
I’m still grinning widely at that memory. And will do so for a long time to come. It’s not everyday that you get to meet your idol. I’m sure I wouldn’t be so starry-eyed if I lived in Chennai and got to see his work more regularly, but the point is I’m not, and the rarity makes this whole deal all the more special for me.
On an aside… Crazy Mohan cracks kadi jokes… if he was a Gandhian, he’d be cracking khadi jokes.
Oh, and one of the jokes in the play – “What’s the difference between a Muni/Rishi and a Saamiyar?” “Kaat-la irundha Muni-var. Cot-la irundha saamiyar”. LOL-ness only.
I am back to my old life as one of the numerous Saaftware folks in Bangalore, if only for a short while. Yes, that signals the return of all the BMTC rave/rant blogposts.
When I had just restarted the rounds on BMTC, I found I was getting tired an awful lot, and there seemed to be too many catty Isha_123 types who elbowed me out in the rat race to find seats… even given their general propensity to anorexic proportions, the average Isha is way, way more strongly built than Wanderlust after a month of swimming and yoga. And Irvine and OCTA have turned me soft. I have turned much more polite. I say please and thank you every few minutes. The general friendliness in a small town like Irvine have just made me forget that others aren’t used to making eye-contact and conversation with random people. All that makes it harder to nudge my way into any available seat and giving a ‘Take that, witch’ look to the also-rans.
But a week of this, and I quickly re-learned all that that used to come intuitively to me not long ago. And with this guide, you can too. So that you don’t necessarily have to undergo the coupla weeks of two hours on your feet every day with a gargantuan laptop on your shoulder to learn the tricks necessary to a windowseat on the Volvo.
So firstly, it turns out it’s rather important where you, the gone-soft software engineer position yourself in the crowded bus. Rush hours really mean rush hours; once you lodge yourself, it’s hard to shift.
And where do you position yourself? Right next to someone who’s most likely to get off the earliest, of course.
And how do you know who’s getting off where? Allow me to show you.
**Warning: This post might effectively be considered racial/regional/otherDemographic profiling, so do not read if you find terms like Vellakaran and Amit_123 offensive **
- Laptop check: This is the first, basic check you’ll have to make. If you are a softie, you’ll probably be travelling to one of the hazaar tech parks in the Garden City. You want to make sure that the seat you’re standing next to will not be vacated only when you’ll also be getting off. The first sign of another software engineer is a Laptop. Because no other sane person totes these unwieldy contraptions on buses otherwise. (Unless of course you own one of those sleek Macbooks which fits into your handbag, but if you own a Macbook, you wouldn’t be travelling by BMTC; Apple cleaned out its offices in EGL within a month or something, I heard). So steer clear of the seated folks with anything that looks like a laptop bag.
- Gender check: If you’re a lady, you should first scan all the ladies’ seats. On a good day, you’ll find a man seated in a seat reserved for women. Your search ends. You don’t have to do any further checks on where the man gets off; you tell him where to get off here
Sadly, there’s no seat reservation on Volvos. Which is one of the perks of travelling by non-Volvo buses. And the other is….
- Age check: Check for older folks. They are most likely NOT saaftware. And are less inclined to make long bus journeys in peak timings. They will probably be getting off within city limits and in older areas – they are most probably visiting other senior citizens in BTM Layout or Madivala or HSR Layout, and will not stay on the bus till Marathalli or Bagmane. Also to be considered are parameters like flowers in hair (for women), amount of oil in hair (for both men and women), and greyness in hair. Be polite to them, and they themselves will ensure that you get their seat when they get up.
Also of note are little children. Pint-sized kids going to school in large gangs. Some of these can easily be lifted and placed on your lap, even by a pint-sized person like yours truly. Sure, you run the risk of being called Aunty or Uncle, but I’d rather be the vibrant Aunty than the tired Akka.
Most passengers on Volvos tend to be Saaftware, and it becomes hard to spot the Pankaja Aunties and Sathyanarayana Uncles and the Chinnus and Putties in the sea of Amits, Ishas, and of course, Rameshes and Geethas. There are however plenty such folks on non-Volvos. Volvos suck, right?
- Skin Colour check: Face it, you will most likely not find a Vellakaaran or African or South-east Asian on a bus. The ones you will think are south-east Asian will be North-east Indian for the most part [Aside: There was this Korean at my workplace who kept getting asked about IIT-Guwahati and Mizoram and Nagaland too often ]. But on the occasion you do find an authentic foreigner on the bus, check for the tourist attractions on the route. If there are none, they are probably headed to Saaftware land. Avoid. Because you are expected to be polite to them; Athithi Devo Bhava, etc. You can also put on your best pseud accent and talk to them about the colours and heat and dust in India.
On the other hand, if they are the naturalized Indian sorts – Bindi, gold bangles, plaited hair, Indian clothes – they have probably grown to love the ‘chaos of India’. You are allowed to be pushy. Same with the ones who’ve come looking for their destiny and purpose in life.
On the third hand, there was this white man on the bus who seemed rather unhinged… he was eating his ticket. Be kind to such folks.
On a more practical level, these folks could be headed to either the British Council or Max Mueller Bhavan or Alliance Française.
- Clothes check: You reach here when you’re past the Age check. You have a bunch of people who look to be of similar ages – 18-35. How do you decide who gets off where?
If it’s a woman in formals or semi-formals, rest assured it’s an Isha (going by empirical evidence). Isha = softie. Or, hell, (semi-)formals = softie… who else wears those ghastly things anyway. Collars are a pain in the neck. You want to avoid other Softies; they’ll most likely get off where you do.
A woman in a saree is a delight to behold for reasons other than aesthetic appeal. I can go all Kamala Aunty and say kids these days have no respect for culture, tradition and India, they don’t even wear sarees, look at my generation, we all wore sarees to college only, but for the fact that I’m one of those kids, and we didn’t wear sarees in college except on one or two special days, when it took us a zillion pins and hours of effort to pleat those things into submission. Getting back to the woman who does brave all the effort, she is normally in one of those jobs which requires her to look intimidating and professional at the same time. One of those can be Hooch Queen, but those types probably travel in a Sumo, not a bus. Another is senior HR, but those ladies drive to work, and get to work early (to stare down latecomers), no rush hour for them. The most delightful however is school teacher, or front desk employee, for they most probably do not work in a softie place.
Also delightful is biochemist and nurse. They’ll get off at CMH or St. Johns.
Not delightful, however, is betelnut-chewing vegetable seller. They will most probably get off at ‘lashtaap’.
Brightly coloured multi-hued clothes, an abundance of denim, along with messy hair and xeroxed notes in hand should put a smile on your face. These are college students. They travel in packs. Which means the entire front two rows will be empty once the ‘College’ stop comes.
Nuns and Moulvis are easy to predict too – the nearest ‘Church’ or ‘Maseedi’ stop. You will not find Hindu priests in buses; they are madi.
Salwar-Kameez on the other hand is too pervasive across all job descriptions.
- Gesture Check: If someone begins fidgeting with their belongings, they’ll most probably get off soon.
However, avoid sleeping people, or people with their laptops open. They KNOW they won’t be getting off for a while.
As also gossiping-chatting ladies, especially the middle-aged ones in sarees. These are the ones going all the way across town for someone’s Sathyanarayana Pooje or housewarming, and they will not be getting off for a long, long while. They come fully prepared with company and loads to gossip about. Entertain yourself listening to their conversation (does not apply to Amit/Isha… but then you are probably entertaining others with your own phone conversation where you are sharing your salient observations about Bangalore with pals from your regions).
- Software Company Check: Yeah, you avoid softies with all your life, but then what if you avoid that laptop-toting guy, and it turns out he works at CGI and gets off at Silk Board, two stops away? You’ll kick yourself, that’s what, and say “Priya, your methods suck!”. Fear not. I haven’t missed that. This is a necessary step for anyone travelling by Volvo.
Check ID cards. It might look creepy, but you soon can master the art of sneaking glances. Even the strap of the tag will do. The dude with “Life at iFlex Turns Me On” (yeah, they really have that) on the neck will not be getting off until Bagmane.
Check laptop brands. Lenovo and Dell mean they’ll get off at EGL. Mostly. HP however can mean a variety of places.
Check Tshirts. Usually it’s the Yahoo and Google folks who flaunt those.
Eavesdrop on conversations. If they mention “Manyata Office” AND “Bannerghatta Road Office”, it could only mean they are from IBM. “Nice HR people at Bannerghatta Road” means they are from NetApp. This bit is an Art, and you get better only by practice. Do not feel shy to listen to others’ conversations. If someone’s whining about office in a public place, they deserve all that that comes to them.
- Language Check: I find this rule useful while travelling in East Bangalore. Anyone speaking Tamil normally gets off in Old Madras Road.
- Other General Advice: Given all the Volvo rants, it seems miserable to travel by those buses. The rates are more, and the assurance of finding a seat is much lesser than a non-Volvo. This however is true only on the routes on the Ring Road. If you are lucky enough to work in the heart of the city, Volvos rock. Otherwise, you are better off travelling by some other bus.
Except if you want to look presentable the moment you enter office. Non-volvos are more sweaty, which will easily mess your makeup or render it useless. Ironed clothes have no hope here. Oh, and you’d pick a Volvo if you like your oxygen.
Remember the stuff your Science teacher in school said, that went went like “Wear a white shirt and go roam around [Insert name of big city] and it’ll come back black” to illustrate the pollution problems in cities? Well, he might have been kidding in his day, but that really happens now.
- Caveats: There will always be that laptop-toting amit_123 who will get off at Basavanagudi. That ancient man might just get off at Marathalli because he’s buying a shirt in those hazaar Factory outlets. Those two nuns will probably get off at the Last Stop; they got in at ‘Church’ stop. And all these rules reverse for the evening rush hour.
This guide is by no means complete. And I don’t always follow these rules myself. But I find a marked success in finding seats when I consciously follow these rules than if I just squeeze into the first available space.
I have left out the rules for the trip back home not just coz I’m sleepy at this time, but also as ‘an exercise for the reader’. It is, as this nice BMTC post by Thejaswi Udupa says, the best way to ‘learn’ a city.
Yes, I realize I sound racist, regionalist, lackingScruples and just generally rude while profiling folks and elbowing them out, but that’s what rush hour does to you. It’s a rat race and you are still a rat when you win it, but atleast you’re a more comfortable, relaxed and satisfied rat.
Plus, average bus travel in the city is not thus; it’s a lot more civilized, and you tend to meet a lot of interesting people, if you get out of your xenophobia and gen ‘Don’t talk to strangers’ mode. People are way more polite. Hell, even I’m polite when it doesn’t come to finding a place to sit – you ask me random stuff – bus routes, autorickshaw-fu fundae, restaurants, housing – I’ll tell you, even if I’m hanging on for dear life on a bus. And that can be generalized to the rest of the residents of my beautiful city.
As for regional stereotypes, they don’t arise out of nowhere. Statistically, it’s more likely that a North Indian heads to a software company than to Max Mueller Bhavan or St. John’s. And of a gang of Tamil-speaking college girls getting off at Old Madras Road than at Richmond Circle (in the evening). If you trained a classifier to do these things, it’d do the same based on the evidence… it chooses the ‘best bet’ based on all the historical data it is trained on. Our minds are no different. You needn’t go to the extent of changing the alphabet to “Indian-Americans, E, F, G, H….X,Y,Z” (via twitter) to be politically correct.
Here’s wishing you much fun on your bus trips around the city.
Like they say, ‘Use BMTC, save trees/fuel/Earth’.
There are a lot of women like Olive Oyl who paint their nails red and run very weird. There are also a lot of men like Bluto who like women like Olive Oyl. They like to pick up fights from time to time. Wome like Olive Oyl like men like Popeye who can eat spinach and beat up me like Bluto and go Toot! Toot! There are also others like Wimpy who keep munching burgers. Swea Pea is an annoying little thing.
Im bugged of running this in my brain for the past one hour. Thank God! The power is back!
I am also very bored.
PS: Is Popeye, Olive Oyl’s Boyfriend?
(Title from this pic).
So I wake up this morning to my mother firing the maid. It wasn’t pretty.When the young woman put forth her best “What did I do wrong?” face, my mother systematically listed out her set of faults, but none more than her unprofessionalism – mentioning she’ll be gone for only a day, and then not turning up for a week, and not answering her phone when she called to find out if anything was wrong. Consistently. And yet drawing her full salary for the month. What, money grows on trees? And the uncertainty of waiting for you to sweep and swab the house is too much for me; I’d rather just sweep and swab myself, which I can plan out better when I know for sure you won’t be coming. Good luck with everything in the future.
And over the past few months, a few friends and I have been going back and forth over this article in The Hindu about maids ‘slogging and slaving’, yet “getting a pittance”.
Now, I’ve been raised to consider everyone as an equal, including household help. Which for my family, meant that they would have to work as hard and smart as we do if they wanted to have a life like ours. No pity, no “aiyo paavam”. My mother’s aunt, a former schoolteacher, is responsible for many a literate housemaid and housemaid’s kids. My grandfather badgered many a housemaid to have small savings in the post office. And so on and so forth. Household help is not weak people to be helped. They are people to be empowered.
I don’t know where the hell the whole ‘helpless household help’ idea stems from. The maids who I’ve seen… both in my house as well as in many others – have been anything but. An extreme case was this lady who asked my grandfather for a hefty loan, and when he refused, said “Your children are all successful, you have enough for your retirement. And yet you say you don’t have money to give me? How cheap of you!”. Most of the rest, while not having as much of a sense of entitlement, have managed to educate their kids rather well, buy land and houses, and in another extreme case, made enough to buy a house that she lets out for Kannada film shootings. They’ve also managed to graduate to nanny positions [The reason I say 'graduate' is because you need to have a set of extremely good recos of being clean, trustworthy and professional before anyone entrusts their offspring in your hands, even if they are going to be around watching you like a hawk], or get permanent employment in schools as ayahs.
And how did they get there? They made best use of the middle-class environment they worked in. They had little to worry about their children [no necessity of finding a daycare when their kids were too young to go to school], as they could bring their kids to work with only positive consequences. Their employers were the sorts who give a lot of importance to education, and ensured that their kids stayed in school, and sometimes even received help with their studies. And working in houses meant all your work was over by afternoon, after which you could manage to have a family life. Unlike slogging for hours together in a garment factory.
They made sure they got to work on time, didn’t take inordinately long leaves to visit their hometown, and ensuring they got in a reliable replacement whenever they did go for their sister’s wedding. They weren’t completely unsloppy – if you’re swabbing a dozen houses every single day, it’s hard to be consistent, especially when the home you’re cleaning is not yours – but they were less sloppier than the rest of the competition.
They ensured that they put away money in banks, away from the hands of drunk husbands or greedy relatives. They didn’t stand around and gossip or fester family intrigues, even if they worked in Malashree’s house (where the temptation to gossip would be insanely high). They made sure they didn’t blow away all their earnings on a visit to their hometown. They made sure they didn’t have too many debts.
They made sure their behaviour was in line with middle-class morality. After all, who wants to employ a woman who has three children with different fathers, one of whom she is not sure of? (true story). And they didn’t steal…. who’d want to hire a maid whose presence makes your best innerwear, trinkets and cutlery go missing?
It’s certainly not an easy task to do all of this. But then what is? The jobs my parents do isn’t easy for them either. Why, even the job(s) I have held haven’t been easy. There are software engineers who’ve spent exactly one week in a year with their folks back home. There are single mothers who sacrifice sleep to ensure they are a good employee as well as a good mother. There are nurses who disregard their own health to take care of their patients. There are women who put their marriages and kids on hold just so that they can educate their younger siblings. [All true stories]. So why should the life of a maidservant be any different?
Especially since if you are in the unskilled services business, where supply exceeds demand. Qualifications required to join the business are minimal. There is a deluge of people doing this as either a primary or secondary source of income. The only way you can distinguish yourself is through your performance. And the only way is to move upwards to the middle class is by doing those things that have helped the middle class become what they are – saving, living frugally, budgeting and emphasizing education.
And heck, you don’t even have any exclusive knowledge about your work. The women you work for know your job better than you do. Their roving eyes will spot any speck of dirt you have missed. They don’t hire you for status or because they don’t know to do the dishes or cook – who in the middle class can afford to blow a few hundred rupees on household help just like that. They hire you because they have day jobs, or because their hands are too full with children, or because they are too frequently unwell to do the sweeping and swabbing and cooking and cleaning themselves. Heck, they’d prefer it if they did all those jobs themselves; it’s too painful to keep yelling at someone else to do things the way you want them to be done.
The world is not divided into ‘Fortunates’ and ‘Unfortunates’. The more and more we view household help as people to be helped, the more and more we are hurting them by keeping them in a state of wanting help, and not helping themselves. This Mai-Baap sort of attitude only serves to reaffirm their beliefs of themselves being illiterate and stupid and unprofessional. It is only fair to consider them as just people doing a job with dignity, and expect them to behave so, while giving them the respect they deserve.
Like a conversation at hostel – A: “Hey, tell me if that lady comes… I want to ask her to sweep and mop my room” B: “Why don’t you do it yourself?” A: “I would… but my mom’s coming and I want it done professionally”.
And…. for more cheerful takes on the maid scene, check out Cynic’s posts. Here and Here. And the rest of her blog too… this lady sure does have an interesting perspective on things, and writes so swell too.