Thursday, 21 February 2008

Kumari Aunty

In dubai a career woman needs help to manage her children. Below are her 3 main options…

1. She has her parents or inlaws staying with her.

2. She has a full time maid(who goes home only at weekends) or a part time maid(who goes home at the end of the day) OR

3. She leaves her children at the ‘Baby-sitting’.
‘Baby sitting’ is basically an informal crèche. Generally, this ‘Baby sitting’ is managed by stay-at-home moms in their house itself for additional income. Its illegal of course but you’ll find it everywhere.

The 3rd option is the preferred option among the middle class coz it is the least expensive way of managing your children.

I stayed home & looked after my kids for 6 yrs and resumed work only after Naina joined school. I decided to keep a part-time maid since I didn’t want to create any kind of uncertainty in my kids’ minds by displacing them from their familiar territory(as it is they had to adjust to the fact that their mother was going to disappear for 8-9 hrs everyday, so imagine if they also had to adjust to another environment).

The 1st & 2nd Malayalee maids lasted 1 & 2 weeks each. One was unhappy with the workload(my inlaws were in town for 2-3months) & the other was caught by the police & deported.
All women working as maids should have paperwork stating their profession, etc. Most maids come into the country on a visit visa & stay on illegally, or “Khalliwalli” as they are known.
The middle class income groups turn a blind eye to their maids’ visa status coz if they didn’t want to hire these illegal immigrants then they’ll have to bring a maid on their visa which will cost a lot of money, not to mention many hours of paperwork.

Coming back to my plight, after 2 weeks of searching(by now I am desperate coz better half has suggested that I give up my job, read here how hard I looked to get that job) we got a coarse looking, rough talking malayalee who looked like a “been there, done that” type. Hubby took me aside & asked me seriously whether all this was worth it & finally left the decision to me. I was terribly upset & was wondering the same thing.

I sat down & thought carefully whether I really wanted to work in these circumstances. It didn’t seem worth it. It’s not like we needed my salary to survive.

Just then the doorbell rang. A friend, who knew my plight, brought another candidate for the housemaid post. A petite, middle aged lady with kind eyes & a pleasing face. She didn’t look like your average maid. She was a Christian, from Andhra Pradesh who didn’t know Malayalam or our cuisine. She spoke a smattering of English & Hindi. We knew a good thing when we saw one. She was IN.

The very next day after she joined I lost my cell phone. I couldn’t for sure pinpoint where exactly I lost it (I usually win the prize for the lousiest memory in any competition). The lady was so upset. She & I both knew that it was quite natural for the employers to suspect the maid in such cases. Analytically speaking I doubt a person with dishonorable intentions will create a negative impact so early in the day. But otherwise also I just couldn’t believe that she was behind the act.

During the next 3-4 months I found out a few facts about her. Her husband & son were both pastors & they worked as driver & office asst. respectively. They were not very happy about her working but she didn’t want to sit idle. Her English was limited to - prayer, eating, sleeping, chicken, fish & cleaning.
She knew a BIT of colloquial hindi & I could understand some of what she spoke but she couldn’t understand much of the Hindi I spoke.
She & I communicate using a crazy mixture of English, Hindi, dumb charades, pictionary and verbal noises(for eg. If I wanted something ground in the mixie – I whirl my hand furiously & say rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr)

The kids are fond of her & can communicate with her more effectively. When they speak with her they automatically switch to her level of vocab. I cringe when I hear them murdering the queen’s language. Before you ask….yes I have told them to talk normally so that she’ll also learn the correct usage of words. But its no use coz then she won’t understand what they say. Forget the kids; I realized that I also resort to butler English & Hindi when I talk with her.

She is obsessed with cleaning(our electricity & water bill has never been the same again). I have told her time and again that there was no need to be so fanatical about it. She would dutifully nod to whatever I tell her but in the end cleans the bathroom once again and vacuums the house for the nth time. Its hard to get upset with a person who treats your home like her own.
I taught her a few basics dishes like thoran, mezhukuparetti, ozhikaan & the most importantly fish curries & fry :-P. After a few culinary disasters she got the hang of it. And I left her to it.
Just once I asked her 2 iron a shirt of mine coz I was running late & till today I never had to iron another item in my wardrobe.

Life is certainly eventful with her around. Once she fried 2 kgs of fish in 1 go coz she misunderstood what I told her. That night we had fish for our main course & rice as our side dish.
She has our housekeys but she has still locked herself out at least 3 times by now. Lucky for everybody that I can reach home in 10 minutes. I usually take 15-20 mins but in this case I’m sprinting coz I want to save my house from catching fire as she would have some curry on the stove. Yeah, we’ve told her a 100 times not to leave the house without keys, mobile, etc. Again she nods her head vigorously.

Our only complaint is that she kills us with kindness. We can’t keep a single bill or any paperwork on our table coz she thinks it her duty to keep our table neat. We hunt for the day’s newspaper & finally find the trash bin lined neatly with the same. The worst was last week when I found my new blue dupatta (u knw those dupattas u twist to keep it in shape) ironed and flattened it into a normal one. I sat down with a sigh & looked at it for 5 minutes hoping my eyes were seeing wrong. And then I smiled ruefully. It was my fault for leaving it crumpled invitingly in front of her. I should have hidden it somewhere.

It’s been a year since she’s been working for me. And she’s leaving to India for her son’s wedding at the end of this month. Of course I have asked her to come back when she returns after 3 months. She smiles & nods her head. But she & I know that 3 months is a long time. In the meantime she is calling up all her contacts & telling them to find a replacement. She stresses that I am very nice to work for(madam achcha hai). I smile and tell her that she is very nice, that is why people cannot help but be nice to her.

I got so used to her that I’m dreading the entry of a new maid. Kumari Aunty, as the kids call her, has spoilt us for choice.

I want to get her something special. Something which lasts. I thought of getting something in gold but it is the 1st thing they sell in times of need. Then I thought of getting her a good watch but just last week her son gifted her one. Any ideas, anyone?


  1. wow. she really sounds too good to be true.I know it means so much to have the comfort of a full time maid here in Dubai. If i knew about all the trouble(paperwork, visa etc)that is reqd to get someone from india, i dont think i would have come at the first place.
    And now , with just the two of us and no cooking to do, i am managing just fine:)
    It becomes all the more difficult when u get used to one,. good luck finding a new one, who's as good.
    and i think u wud know the best what to gift, cus u have known her for a while.

  2. Wow. I'm in the same soup now. Want to start working but waiting for tanya's admission. Chkd out all the options, nanny, daycare, baby sitting etc. We stand at crossroads all the time right?
    'kumari aunty' sounds like a very nice person. I do hope for ur sake that she comes bck. The 'dupatta' episode was so cute :) you took it in ur stride, i think a lot has to do with how all the 'madamjees' behave too. You must be a kind person :)
    Now for the gift, think from her angle, if you think she'll wear that gold for the wedding and sell/pawn it in necessity, so be it. Give her something that is of utmost value to her.... gold, a good saree with nice earings, money....

  3. ISH: yes we've been very lucky to get her. and thanks for the best wishes, i really need it.

  4. I was laughing real loud and hard. I could just picture you and the kids frantically gesturing and communicating with her. I do hope with all my heart that she returns to you.
    U know her plight best since she has been around with you for a a while. My guess is money would really help. That way she can pick up what she wants. If you know any good store that has gift cheques, pick up whatever denomination you would have bought the gold for. Maybe she can pick up gifts for ppl back home.

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  6. preethi: dont mention crossroads....i'll start breaking into hives. ALL my life i've been standing at crossroads. i finally take the turn & then find the next crossword a mere 5 metres away.

    thank you for the gift ideas. i'm seriously considering the saree & earrings idea.

  7. Bins: believe me i havent written half of it. yes sometimes its really funny.
    & thanks, Gift voucher is a good idea.

  8. I enjoyed reading this--did you find your cell phone and what did you finally get her?

  9. Thank u Ps.

    No, i never found the mobile & now i can say with 110% surety that she could have never taken it.

    and no, i still havent decided what to give her. i have picked up small stuff like dress material & perfume but that big gift is still eluding me. & tomorrow is her last day with us:-(

  10. just thot u'd like to know...

    she left on 28th Feb. the kids made her a card, she cried as the kids kissed her goodbye. i gave her double her salary, a salwar, a HUGE box of choclates and some perfume.

  11. So sweet; reminds me of my maid Maniamma who used to dust the sofa, the showcase and keep everything so neat and clean; I never had to tell her; when we shifted to a new place, she even accompanied us to help me out there. Its so diff to find one like that again :(

  12. Yea Swaram....very difficult to find 1 like tht again. I shd know...the next maid stayed with me for next 9 months & bcoz of her inadequacies my husband 'coaxed' me to leave my job & sit at home.
    But the good news is Kumari Aunty is back in our lives again...since I'm now at home she works part-time[2 hrs everyday] for me now...
    Believe me, I'd hate to lose her;-D

  13. Gud that she is back; lucky u :)

  14. My mom has a maid who speaks only telugu, and my mom knows english hindi and kannada, but no telugu.

    They both have never spoken a complete sentence till date which the other understands. But my mom knows everything about where her husband is , and that her husband beats her and all about her kids and almost her whole life story!

    I am pretty sure, that my mom would have told her that I dont help my mom with her house work, etc etc . But how they manage to be so communicative, with no common language, beats me! :)

    I happened to come across your blog and I really like it! :)

  15. LOL I'm sure u r imagining it[@ur mom complaining abt u;-D]. I've realised telugu is tricky compared to the rest of the south Indian languages. The only 2 words I've learnt from my maid are perugu[curd] & kawali[I want] and oh how cd I forget Rapu[which means yesterday;-o]

    Welcome to my space MS;-D!!!!


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