Servants In India.

Cheerful Monk had this to say as a response to TOF on my post Points Of View. “All I can say is, “Yay, laziness!” I had insomnia for years and my greatest luxury now is getting enough sleep. There’s just the two of us so no big household to run. I suppose if you have servants it’s a different story? That’s one of the great joys of blogging for me–trying to imagine other people’s lives.” Cheerful Monk writes on how her life goes on and it is so fascinating to read that I don’t miss any of her posts. I can thus understand that to learn about how others live in far away places can be very interesting indeed.

A perfect opening for a lazy brain to come up with an idea for a blog post. I have deliberately set out to break our of a routine controlled life after my last care giving duties ended. I now try and avoid getting stuck in routine and get in as many exceptions as possible in my life. But as CM suggests, having servants can be a blessing on the one hand and a handicap on the other. I shall try and explain in this post.

We have two part time servants. Yakob our gardener and handyman was the first to join us way back in December 1990. He and his wife Shobha came into our home as a team and stayed as a team with us till they shifted residence in 1998 and Shobha stopped coming to work with us. Yakob however continued and is still with us. Both of them and their two now strapping sons are part of our family and the relationship is difficult to explain to non Indians. Yakob looks after our small garden keeps all the vehicles clean and runs errands for me as well attend to small odd jobs at home at need. Since Yakob has a full time job in an establishment near our home, he is fairly regular in attendance.

Yakob however is very possessive about our home, the garden, the vehicles and just about anything pertaining to the two of us. We have to be extremely careful in getting things done by others as he insists on the right to first refusal. Knowing his limitations, this can be quite complicated at times, but his sensibilities have to be taken into account and he be given a role in the task. Take for instance some carpentry or plumbing work to be done at home. If I contacted either a plumber of a carpenter without Yakob acting as the intermediary, Yakob will sulk. So, we inevitably get him to get such experts to come and do what needs to be done under his supervision. You can imagine what happens when there is an emergecy.

The other servant is our lady servant Mangal who has been with us for over 15 years now. She sweeps and swabs all the floors of our home, cleans the bathrooms, cooks for us, washes all the dishes and vessels and washes, dries and folds away all clothes.

So far so good. The problem with the latter is that she is a typical Indian housewife in her home and is often needed to attend to various functions, emergencies, weddings, deliveries etc and so plays hookey quite often and when she falls ill that too results in her absenting herself. On the days that she does not come, I am the home maker and do all the work that she does normally. Ranjan helps but is more of a hindrance than help and so I tend to leave him alone. The point in all these rants is however that I cannot even think of getting a stand in for her, unless she arranges one for us when she is away from duty.

With this background, my readers will understand that I cannot stick to a routine as one element in the management of the day is erratic in attendance. The routine is maintained on all days except when Mangal does not come to work and on those days, I have to improvise and innovate and manage somehow.

Another blogger Ashok had this to say recently on his Facebook page. “Our domestic help just called me and absolutely insisted I go to her place for lunch 🙂 I was absolutely overwhelmed with her concern and affection. A true testament to the kind of relationship my mother and her have shared for the past 16 years. Just one of those moments when I feel terribly lucky to be a son to my parents :)” Here is exactly what I am trying to convey in my post. The servant / employer relationships can become very different to what perhaps people in the West them to be.

Being able to employ servants is a mixed blessing. One takes on responsibility for the servant as much as the servant takes on the responsibility for the employer. Long lasting relationships like we have with our two servants can be joyful when everything is working well and frustrating when not, but like with all other family members, servants too, having become family members can be the cause for both emotions.

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21 Responses to Servants In India.

  1. MGH says:

    At times the nature of this relationship in this geography can turn into a very rewarding personal relationship, and at other times the lines between employer & employee get blurred.

  2. Delirious says:

    Our landlord here in China required that we employee his house cleaner who worked in this very apartment cleaning for him for 5 years. She is indispensable to me! Her cleaning isn’t that special, but she has been a source of information for me. Whenever I need to know where to buy something, I ask her. Whenever I need help taking care of some business here, I ask her advice. She personally took me on the bus to show me what stop to get off for the good shopping. She and I rode our bikes together to a far away phone company office to get some problems straightened out. And on top of all that, we chit chat and have fun together while she is here. 🙂
    Delirious recently posted..We Devote Time and Attention to What’s Most Important

  3. A smart employer of househelp in Indian cities will divide the work between two or three persons. The possibility of one not turning up is quite high. My top job lady had a bereavement and disappeared for four days in two stints this past fortnight. My cook has taken off in the past two days for her mother’s sake who is hospitalised. So I have another lady Kala who worked for many years full time but had to give up because she relocated to a far off suburb and also has a heart problem. She comes to help me out in emergencies. The relationship is mutually dependent. We helped Kala educate and marry off her daughter and two sons. My cook’s daughter is physically challenged. She has just finished high school and will enter college. We will support her education and to take up a career. The employment of house help is mutually beneficial. It is also an important economic activity as family’s come up in life.
    Padmini Natarajan recently posted..The Healthy Tamil New Year Feast

    • I am glad that you have brought that into this narrative as well. Yes, our contributions towards their family’s progress is also part of the phenomenon.

  4. tammy j says:

    so interesting rummy.
    here in america if you have any kind of ’employed help’ … they don’t call them servants anymore … it means quite literally that you are RICH!
    only the wealthy and the celebrities tend to have ‘staff.’
    i’ve often thought that the only ‘staff’ i would employ if i were wealthy would be a cook. the thought of simply asking for a meal and having it magically (ha!) appear ~ and then to eat it on the balcony perhaps in the fresh air ~ or by candlelight in the evening… well. heaven to me!
    this was a lovely post. like you. i think it is so interesting to see how other people live!
    tammy j recently posted..my lobster award

    • Here too, it is increasingly getting to be difficult to get help. Many states in India now depend on labour that comes from states that are less developed and a cross fertilisation of cultures is taking place as well as some unique urban phenomenon like rapes taking place. I can write a tome on such sociological developments thanks to a lop sided development effort in some parts of the country.

      Another factor is what you call the rich are the middle classes here. It is all relative really.

  5. wisewebwoman says:

    Very interesting post, Ramana. I had a few nannies when my children were small and I worked outside the home and they were more like co-parents to the point they came on vacation with us. Now I have Leo who takes care of my wood supply and planting and mowing. And Emma, who is a friend also and cleans my house once every 2 weeks and often brings me baking and uses me as a sounding board.
    XO
    WWW
    wisewebwoman recently posted..Someday

    • I have read about your Leo in your blog and now I have learned about Emma. Yes, we tend to develop bonds with help if all goes well. We also have horrid stories of help committing crimes in cities, thanks to a rapidly changing society pushing rural folks into urban milieus.

  6. Well, my husband is the handyman and I am the cook, swabber, and sometimes cleaner of the bathrooms (plus I do all of the wash). That relationship gets muddy sometimes, too. Oh, well. I’d probably get more writing done if I had your arrangement. Maybe not, tho. Perhaps I would find something else to be busy with to avoid the computer. Interesting. Thanks.
    Talk to Me…I’m Your Mother recently posted..The Mother Line

    • Mother, I am the secretary, door man, telephone operator, mail and courier receiver etc for my son beside being his cook and butler too. He in turn becomes my chauffeur and errand boy at need.

  7. Nandu Pillai says:

    Oh my wife & I could write a book on this subject ! The number of maids , cooks and drivers we have had in the past nearly years ( me even before I got married ) is just mind boggling – not just in the various Indian cities we have lived in but even overseas in Mauritius and Sri Lanka . Cut a long story short – we just could not live without them ; and we would like to think ,vice versa !

  8. You’ve been talking about downsizing. Will that affect your relationships with them?
    Cheerful Monk recently posted..Meditation

    • Downsizing will not affect these relationships. There will be no cut in their emoluments but their work loads will natiurally come down. I am afraid that they are stuck with us for the rest of their and our lives.

    • Nandu Pillai says:

      Cheerful Monk : As you well know by now , Nobody , but nobody cuts Ramana down to size !

  9. Cathy in NZ says:

    thanks for the interesting situation of servants in your part of the world and the reason you have or not have them in you routines…

    most of positions in NZ would be classed as something akin to hiring a cleaner for a couple hours a week or a lawn care person who might only whizz around your garden with a heavy motor mower, occasionally take the clippings away but usually miss huge bits because it’s just plain extra work. If you want that “pay more” – that the private persons right…

    the government however has schemes to help people stay in their homes with all kinds of help…
    Cathy in NZ recently posted..Changing Seasons, Changing Pathways

    • I think that like others of your ilk too, if I have to get used to living without help, I suppose that I would be able to. But our government does not help in any way.

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