We like our maid. She’s sweet, and she’s drama free. Probably because she doesn’t speak much English. A few months ago, she came to our door after I posted a “wanted” ad on our compound’s forum. Within a few seconds, I rejected her offer because of the lack of language skills, but she asked me to call her “Ma’m”, her other employer, who then convinced me to give her a try. Out of desperation at the accumulation of red dust around the house, I did, and I don’t regret it.
We overpay her. I know! I am an awful negotiator and have no intention of arguing over 1000 rupees, or $16 per month. As far as I am concerned, we are paying her to clean (not her strongpoint!) and more importantly, to have a slightly better understanding of Indian life. And for that, she deserves double salary.
There is this unspoken rule (pun intended) between us that we’ll do whatever it takes to understand each other. This includes drawings, Google translate, a translating app, calling her other “Ma’m”, or it all else fails, our driver. She speaks Kannada, Hindi and a slew of other languages, but little English. Obviously our conversations are not philosophical, but we usually get the message across. But how does one draw the wind slamming windows shut? “Google translate” works great for Kannada, and the Iphone app for Hindi says out loud what you want it to translate. Once, after a few minutes of getting nowhere, she pointed to the office upstairs and said “computer”. I typed in my message in English, and she read the Kannada script on the screen. Like I said, we won’t take “no” for an answer.
The first thing she does when she enters the house is leave her keys, wallet and dupatta on the scatching post, and heads to the kitchen to do the dishes. With cold water. Sometimes she mops the upstairs living room, sometimes she doesn’t. Sometimes she makes the bed, sometimes she doesn’t. I don’t know why.
She loves the cats. She always pets our big girl, even gave her a kiss on the nose once. Last week she dragged me out of the office because she had settled into an open suitcase for a nap. The cat, not the maid. She thought that was hilarious!
She drives a scooter. It is her brother’s scooter she told me. When she was working for the lady who lived in the house behind us, I could hear her leave that house, ride around the corner, and a minute later, park in our garage. I have tried to convince her to wear a helmet, but no.
A while back, she went on a long weekend (she had to miss a day) and brought me pictures of her family: her mother, her teenage daughter and a grown son who goes to college, studying commerce. Her daughter goes to an English-medium school, and she’s very proud of that. Her daughter will therefore have opportunities she does not have. And she brought me sweets her mother had made. Her husband? He’s dead. So she raises two kids on her maid’s salary.
Once, I told her the jasmine in her hair smelled really nice. The next day, she brought me my own flowers. I kneeled on the floor and she put them in my clip, giggling the entire time. She wasn’t pleased with my bangs (very few women have bangs) and kept trying to flatten the front part of my hair. And I have learned, again, that hair should be neatly tucked behind your ears. The kids at school had made that very clear! And you need to fold that string of flowers in two first, then clip it. Oops, I did it wrong and she re-did it for me.
I have been coughing for a couple of weeks now. The first day, she smiled, and left me alone. Today, she came to me and told me to stop drinking cold beverages, went downstairs, boiled water and put it in a bottle for me. Added to the gesture for “drink this”, she explained my cold would be gone in a week or two. I think that’s really sweet! I have given her Aleve and L-Lysine in the past, so we are exchanging booboo medicines.
Recently, she asked me to get chalk so she could draw rangolis on our front porch. We couldn’t find chalk sticks in any stores so I bought a bag of rangoli powder, and every time she comes, she sweeps the old one out, and draws a new one. Today I got a bonus: since tomorrow is the Festival of Laxshmi, goddess of money, she picked flowers in our front bushes, as well as a few leaves and placed them in our welcoming bowl. I like that! The DHL courier guy today explained to me what is involved in this festival: women take out all their cash and place it at the altar (in their home, not the regular temple) and wear all their good jewelry. Laxshmi will then, hopefully, provide for more money in the future. He wasn’t pleased my rangoli was white only, and suggested I should get some colored chalk, to make it prettier. I hadn’t asked for his opinion, but thanks!
We now have this little game going on with our maid. She has always asked for a bottle of water when she leaves, and we do have a pantry full of them (we have a walk-in pantry, that’s awesome!). After Big Basket deliveries, we often have dozens of bottles of Coke on the kitchen floor. One day she tentatively asked for “juice”, pointing at the Coke, instead of water. I don’t think she liked it, because the next time, when I offered “juice” she pointed instead at the fruit juice boxes. So now, before she leaves, we have a 2-minute ceremony between the pantry and the refrigerator, when she chooses which fruit juice she would like to take home! She’s not impressed by tomato juice and today didn’t want lychee, preferring to leave empty handed (not even water, the weather is not that hot anymore) but with a promise that I would have mango next time! We think it’s really cute, and don’t feel taken advantage of at all. It’s a mini exchange of personal preferences. She has brought me yummy rice from home, so she can have our boxed juices.
I think everybody who comes in contact with me knows that my favorite Indian dish is dosas. But dosa batter is a pain to make, it takes hours of grinding, leavening, and mixing and more waiting. One afternoon, while she saw me struggling with a recipe book, she told me which ingredients to buy and made me a batch the next time she came. She laughed when I measured how much pooha and methi she was using (yes, I now know what those things are). She even insisted, though I declined, to come back later that evening for step 2, and the next morning for step 3. And her recipe is delicious!
She absolutely wants me to wear a sari. She usually wears a shalwar kameez. Once she came wearing a sari and E. and I were both stunned. She’s beautiful (we knew that, she’s really pretty). We wanted to take a picture of her but the camera battery was dead that day. I have no idea how women can maneuver with 8 yards of fabric wrapped around their bodies, but it seems to work. The day she brought me the hair flowers, she asked if we could take a picture together. I obliged and later gave her a couple of prints. She’s kinda pouting on the photo. Indians are very formal on their pictures, which is a shame because they have amazing smiles. She looked at them, pondered for a few seconds and said, disappointed: “You white, me black”.
That is sad. So awfully sad.