In most Indian households we hardly come across such oxymoronic statements or such contrasting dichotomies. But it did occur and at my place.
Of late I have started sharing some breakfast besides the regular filter coffee or tea with Kalai, our house help; yes, I have some aversion towards words like “maid” “servant” etc because these signify some kind of unsaid bondage towards the work they do or the people they work for.
In fact there is much that we can be grateful for, for all the services these individuals provide us. It is something that’s easily available in India unlike other countries where such services aren’t readily available at one’s disposal even if you wish to shell out a bomb!
Yes, such affairs are expensive anywhere outside the Indian periphery. However there’s no iota of gratitude that we generally show them.
Anyway, that’s a topic for some other day. For now let us focus on how my house help enjoyed her richly buttered toasts while I had the burnt ones. Though stereotypically this situation should have been “reversed” for some unknown rhyme or reason. But for me this was not an act to proclaim how kind or giving I am but this was an act that arose naturally and spontaneously just as I would do for any of my family members or even guests who come home.
Now before I raise further eyebrows by likening my house help with my guests l wish to clarify that for me they are no different. It’s just that the former is perhaps richly placed in the social fabric while the latter isn’t.
Thus the other day when I offered Kalai some richly buttered toasts along with her usual dose of caffeine while I happily munched on some burnt bread (yes, blame it on my uncanny spark of ideas aka literary pursuits early in the morning that I forgot about those poor slices on the pan) she was amazed and as per her social conditioning offered me her plate of food which I politely refused.
For me those buttered toasts are reminiscent of all the odds that individuals like Kalai face on a regular basis-the discrimination at home or in the society. And it was my way of giving it back to her what she just like any other human being deserves-respect and some care.
This incident also brought back some memories that played like movie scenes on the loop-different cutlery, different crockery (if at all one can rise above inexpensive or humble melamine and aluminum) separately kept at one dark kitchen corner reserved solely for house helps and other staff who are “meant” for menial jobs.
It is time that such ubiquitous practices are abolished or done away with. Isn’t it a humiliation enough when our house helps’ children wear handed down clothes/shoes year after year? Isn’t it an insult enough that their children play with broken toys while our children aspire for Beamer cars and drones? Well some play it smart by claiming that a house help’s son/daughter ought to follow their parents’ profession. But is it justifiable? That too in an era that we live in now? These are some of the important questions that perhaps we need to ask ourselves or retrospect about.
We might know a lot owing to our social standing, the level of our education, the size of our wallet or the vehicles we ride in but there is another section of the society completely cut off from such ostentatious lifestyles; they do not even know their basic rights or how the law and order works let alone fight for the same.
Thus it is now upon us to fill in these vast democratic cracks and stop these humans from being subjected to unspeakable torture and humiliation that’s often meted out to them by few individuals with zero impunity. Sitting in air conditioned homes or plush office spaces it is quite unchallenging to comment on the life of the poor but standing up for them is another story for as they rightly say, “truth is stranger than fiction.” So next time you lose an object/valuable at home do not hold your staff responsible!
As Kalai and I enjoy our breakfast and indulge in some conversations once again I break such poorly conceived conventions at our home wherein her coffee cup comfortably and unabashedly hangs along with mine or my daughter’s and I dare you to suggest me to change that ever!
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