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Let’s Help ‘The Help’

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Summer vacation! I was so excited that school was out and the kids were home. Not anymore. I wish they would go back to school. Or a maid would drop down from the heavens into my lap – or even better, into the kitchen! I have been maid-free for the past 10 years. In other words I’ve been doing all the work and I’ve come to appreciate maids a lot more. I’ll be honest, I didn’t really notice them when I was younger. I remember moving into our own apartment in the early 90s. It was a nice little two bedroom apartment with running water (unlike the rented house we lived in before). The apartment was on the edge of a slum. From my parent’s bedroom window I could see my maid’s hut. She was just a year older than me and while I went to high school, she dropped out to feed her younger sisters and brother (5 in all).

She was the best maid ever. She never talked back to Mom or complained about the work. She never demanded anything. She used to be my companion when my parents weren’t home. We used to play board games and cards. But things looked peachy only on the surface. And I was painfully aware of that. I had a future – higher education, career, wealth etc. while she was doomed to be a maid because that was all she knew. All because she was born poor? But it didn’t mean she had to live poor and die poor. My family made sure she didn’t go hungry even for a day but beyond that we didn’t know how to help her. Or we didn’t believe we had the power to help her.

My grandma had young girls come and work for her. They used to leave their villages and come stay in our house. They not only gave up their families and hometowns but also any grandiose dreams of being something other than what their moms had ever been. My grandma treated them well and I befriended them and tried to teach them English. All they wanted to know was how to sign their names in English. ABCs are not for me – they all said. They knew that my grandma would get them married off to a decent man and that was fine with them.

So what do we do? I was talking to my Dad the other day and he told me about our neighbors in Chennai who put their maid through college. She worked for them during the day and attended evening college and graduated. Now if enough of us did that we could really make a difference. If you are reading this then you have the means to help at least one person. Educate them, educate their kids, teach them some skill that will help them move up. Whenever I go to India I’m amazed by the amount of work these maids do. All day they clean, wash, sweep and mop. At their home. At job number 1. At job number 2. And job number 3 maybe! I know how tough it is to do all the work around the house and it’s tougher without a maid. If I’m out all day with the kids, the plates pile up, dinner doesn’t cook itself and the trash stays put. So be grateful if you have a maid and bite your tongue when you feel like saying something nasty when she turns up at noon. After all she is human and given a chance she would gladly swap places with you.

A few weeks back I read the book ‘The Help” and also watched the movie. One scene from the movie really moved me. It’s the charity ball, set up by the ladies to collect money for orphans in Africa. The very same ladies who refuse to lend money to their maids or treat them as fellow human beings. That’s how the world works these days. We say we want to feed the world and help the poor. But we forget to feed the beggar who lives right around the corner or check on the old neighbor who lives all by herself. We forget to start right at home with the people that come into our lives. Life gives us many opportunities to help but we are always looking for something bigger. There is no glory in helping your maid but if you sponsor UNICEF you can be really proud!!! This kind of thinking keeps us from helping the people who really help us and impact our day to day lives. I’m not saying don’t help NGOs. Just don’t forget to help the people who fall through the cracks. Help close the gap.

I want to hear from all of you who have maids, do not have maids or aspire to have maids…

4 thoughts on “Let’s Help ‘The Help’

  1. Let me talk from the perspective of someone who has lived on both sides, had to do it all while I lived in the west and have help now back here in the east. I haven’t stepped beyond the bounds of helping out any of the maids I have had, beyond the bounds of our relationship, but I treat them as a fellow human.
    I know of households where a maid is given her own plate/tumbler/place and is not supposed to take what she wants to eat or drink tea before the rest of the household. I am glad to say mine isn’t one of them. I also never command them to do things, I always ask, politely, if they can do this work too? I don’t follow after them around the house, thus making them uncomfortable and I have shown complete faith in them by leaving them all by themselves in my house, while I step out for a bit of shopping.
    With what you have written here, I see that I still have space for improvement, and I shall strive toward it.

  2. yes, agree wholeheartedly. and on top of all this, many women living on the fringes are abused physically and emotionally even at home. there is just no respite for them.

    i know of quite a few instances in my town. in fact, it is a way of life here.

  3. i have two maids at home. one’s daughter was literally murdered by her husband
    and the other’s husband turn into an alcoholic thanks to his cronies. goes without saying that he developed cirrhosis and died.

    the plight of women living on the fringes is dismal to say the least.

    • True Namami. The poorest of the poor are usually the women. Alcoholism, abuse and adultery are just some of the miseries these poor women have to put up with.

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