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.