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Life in the Margins and the Muse

A.J. Thomas

By Krishna Baldev Vaid. Translated from the Hindi by Sagaree Sengupta
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2007, pp. xix 264, Rs. 395.00


Those of us who live in cities, especially in metros like Delhi, would have come across ‘problems’ posed by ‘domestic helps,’ – those people living in our society bearing this nomenclature of our middle class ‘humanist’ coinage. ‘Help,’ indeed! The euphemism loses its meaning both ways. In several cases that have come up to public view, such ‘helps’ are hurled down from high-rise homes, by none other than the master or even by the mistress of the house! Many more are subjected to corporal punishment and unlawful detention for prolonged periods. Then there are those who are being systematically harassed on a regular basis for petty things and even suspecting them of theft. In recent years, there have also been several, much publicised cases of domestic helps either murdering old ladies or couples and making off with money and valuables. At least a few of these would be in an apparent payback of karmic debts, one feels. Between these two extremes are the maidservants who form the vast majority of efficient home-runners, without whom urban life is virtually impossible. However, there are problem areas in the relationship between the maidservant and the employer. There are several types of maid servants who jealously guard their independence. Most of them like to keep the master or mistress, off the decision-making process in the maid’s domestic affairs. One part-time maid who used to come to clean the house, would behaved like the mistress of the house. The household took this as a mark of her efficiency and were even secretly appreciative. When she was to marry off her 15 year-old daughter, the master of the house tried to make her aware that this was illegal, as it would be a child marriage. She took offence and in her own way made it known that it was her own affair and no one need interfere. That it was the norm prevalent in her village in Madhya Pradesh! Those of us who tried to make her enlightened, obviously did not take into account the fact that she too had a mind of her own, and a cultural background as well! In contrast, there is this maid who looks like the actress Tabu, and has her own innovative and creative way of cleaning the house and arranging the furniture and things lying about in an innovative and creative manner, leaving her sense of order and aesthetics on ...

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