This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Payal Kapadia. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

What Started As My Hunt For The ‘Perfect Maid’ Became Every Indian Woman’s Story

I didn’t know how much I needed a maid until I became a mom. Like pregnant women everywhere, hormones had probably addled my brains, and I thought I was sorted. Hadn’t I attended all my prenatal classes? Hadn’t I read “What to Expect When You’re Expecting”, cover to cover? And wasn’t my hospital bag packed, down to the Dido album I would sing to as the baby sailed out of me?

But nothing prepares you for motherhood. Nothing. Babies are cute and cuddly for a reason. It’s nature’s deliberate way of making you fall in love with them so that you overlook the fine print. Which is: they leak. They have wobbly head-body mechanisms. They want you for your breasts. And there’s no Motherhood 101 course to help you figure it all out. (I checked.)

So maybe you learn by doing? Maybe practice makes perfect? And when you’ve changed enough piss-soaked diapers, you’ll suddenly wake up one day a better mom? Well, 518 wet diapers later, I was still clueless. Not that this stopped every well-meaning female relative on this side of the Milky Way from turning up at my house with an opinion attached. And, no, motherhood does not help you understand your own mother better. Just in case you’re wondering.

That’s when I realised that there are only two essential states of matter: moms with maids and moms without. I wanted only one thing from God, Santa, the tooth fairy or a maid bureau – the perfect maid with who I could live happily forever after. I conducted a maid-hunt with the fervour of the Boston cops combing the city for the marathon bombers. I sent out ‘maid-wanted’ messages. The number of exclamation marks after ‘wanted’ was directly proportionate to my current levels of despair. But no one had told me about the Bermuda Triangle outside my door. It swallowed up every maid who called and promised to turn up, yet never did.

The few maids that did show up interrogated me carefully, down to how many TV sets I owned and how many other maids I had. Curiously, every single person they’d worked for before me had moved on – to America or the next life. Fortunately for them, I had what you could call an open-door policy.

Of course, I soon discovered that keeping the maid is not as easy as bolting the door once she’s in (or hiding her shoes). Every maid that comes, goes. And you’ll never know who your real friends are till the maid leaves.

My house turned into a railway station where every maid was a passing train. I was the desperate housewife, running around like Chicken Licken because the maid had left and the sky was crashing down on my head. I tormented myself with morbid thoughts. Such as, maybe there was something like a maid karma. Or worse, maybe the same maid was changing her avatar and returning, like some sick cosmic joke at my expense.

I read Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In” for inspiration and caught myself daydreaming about a maid to lean on. I read about scientists exploring the possibility of life beyond Earth and found myself wondering if there was life beyond the maid.

And then one day, I sat down and wrote a book about it. And as I wrote, a curious thing happened. What started out as a tragedy about being utterly dependent on those we employ, ended up being told as a comedy. I found myself laughing at the maid, here today and gone tomorrow. I found myself laughing at myself.

It was a problem the renowned author Virginia Woolf grappled with more than a hundred years ago — how to live with a maid she couldn’t live without (notably, it was not a problem that the male writers of her generation faced). A century later, India is poised on the cusp of a similar social change. Maids are a dying breed – and why not? Would any woman opt to clean your toilets and wash your dishes without so much as a weekly off or a pension guarantee for old age if she had another choice?

This is why “Maidless in Mumbai” started out as my story and ended up being every urban Indian woman’s story. We’ve all wondered how we’ll achieve things outside our home without a maid inside it. We’ve all wondered why being maidless isn’t something our husbands agonise over. We’ve all wondered if we’re in this alone.

But there is such a thing as shared human experience, and writing this book has taught me that. And even if all your friends look blissfully happy on Facebook, take it from me: many of them are maidless.

You can get your own copy here.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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