Maid

Why having a maid?

12:58 PM

There is one topic of conversation that almost always end up into an awkward talk with my family and friends that do not live in India, and this is the infamous Hired help topic.
Back where I come from, hired help is costly, very few have a maid that comes more than once a week to do some heavy work if they have one at all. Most people in Switzerland do pride themselves on doing all the work in their home or almost. A housekeeper is a sign of luxury, or at the most a necessity that some dual income families need to get because nobody wants to scrub the bathroom clean every week. Those who get hired help do hire them for one or two hours a week max. In the middle class the idea of having a maid coming daily is associated with rich people living in mansions and are dubbed as snobs.

In this light it comes as no surprised that each time I mentioned having a maid come in daily to do my dishes and mop my floor, I was called…SPOILED
When I tried to explain that in India having a maid is almost a necessity if you can afford one, I have been called ridiculous by some friends, and they were quick to point out that they do all the cleaning in their home themselves, some even saying that no house in a city can get as dirty as the country home they live in and that I am exaggerating a great deal and am possibly lazy.
Well I so wish these people were right (not that I would love being called lazy and spoiled), but the truth is that they simply have no clue about housework in India, so just let me try to explain it a bit better.

India has a much different climate to begin with, there are about 3 months of monsoon during which all gets damp and soggy, in some areas of the country even catch mildew in no time, and the rest of the year, and we are talking a long 9 months stretch, everything is dry, not a single drop of rain will fall outside the monsoon in most places, this means dust gets airborne very easily and will get absolutely everywhere in someone’s house. The high temperature means that you leave the windows open as much as possible to get some air in. AC units are not something everybody can afford, and those who can like me know that the electricity bill will skyrocket just for using it at night in one room, which makes closing all windows during the day to run the AC 24/7 unaffordable…so much so you need to deal with dust.
In cities you need to add pollution to the mix, and India has been recently pronounced the most polluted country in the world. The dust that accumulates in my place is a greasy black one, and it accumulates so fast I get to dust the equivalent of one week of Swiss dust in just a day here in Mumbai.
I walk barefoot in my home to avoid dragging more dust around with shoes, my maid comes in the morning to sweep and mop, I wash my feet and by 10am both marble floor and my feet are squeaky clean…by 7pm my feet are starting to look black again, as if I walked barefoot outside the home, and the next morning my maid is sweeping away a huge pile of blackish dust off the floor in such an amount that I would get sweeping my floor once a week in Switzerland…that is how much airborne dirt you get in a day in Urban India.
The maid I have right now, also dusts my furniture, and usually by the late afternoon that is as if she didn’t do a thing so I do it again, in just 3 days a duster goes from white to blackish grey and good for the laundry bin. My ceiling fans look black and disgusting in 2 weeks flat as well.
As for my dishes, well DH likes Indian food in his tiffin, and Indian food is pots and pan heavy, each oily enough, add to this the regular load of plates and bowls and glasses, and we are talking about a total 45 minutes of washing up the dishes a day easily. Back home as a family of 3 I would probably have a dishwasher, here they are costly, do not fit in many kitchens, and the dish detergent to use in them isn’t widely available (I have friends who did buy a dishwasher and each told me the detergent is a pita to find), the maid coming in daily in many home just does the job of a dishwasher.
I have a washing machine for the clothes, so I don’t need my maid to do my laundry, but in many middle class families it is still done by hand daily by the maid. And to those wondering why clothes need to be washed daily, well simply put India is a dirty place as I said. So since a house need to be mopped and dusted daily, imagine what goes on one’s clothes when you add sweat to the mix?
I generally do 2-3 batches of laundry a week, because apart from denim shorts and jeans, and maybe cargo pants nothing can be worn more than a day without or looking dirty and frumpy or just stinking up a storm. In Winter I can get away wearing a t-shirt twice before washing it, in Summer I am lucky enough if a cotton kurta will last me a day thanks to the heat and humidity that leads me to sweat buckets. Beside if you don’t believe me and ever come to India, just go out 2-3 hours come back home or to your hotel room and wipe your face clean with some toner and a cotton pad…and then think about the gunk your just removed from your face only….would you want to wear clothes that have the same sweaty dirt on more than a day? No thanks!
Back in Switzerland I could easily go a week without changing the bed sheets, even 10-15 days in winter, in India stretching to 4-5 is a maximum, so needless to say that it makes for a laundry batch fast enough.
If you live in an apartment you are spared the hassle of keeping the water tank filled and clean at all time, or the hassle of keeping the outdoor premises clean, but if you live in a house then add these to the chores.
As for cooking, Indian food takes time to prep, the veggies need a lot of cleaning, peeling and cutting, your chapatti dough need to be made almost daily, some lentils need to be soaked in advance, and you won’t find much in the way of shortcuts such as frozen veggies, pre-cut veggies, canned soaked beans and lentils…so it’s all labour intensive. One regular vegetarian meal made all from scratch takes about an hour to pull, a regular continental fare will not keep you more than 30 minutes in the kitchen, and while I can leave a roast chicken in the oven and do something else, Indian cuisine doesn’t leave you this luxury, you need to stir your food almost constantly on the stove.
I made the quick calculation that if I were to keep the house clean all by myself and cook every meal I would spend at the minimum 5 hours inside the house doing the household chores. Add to this grocery shopping, picking up kids in school, and playing with them, or helping with homework and you have a very long day, now how many of my friends in the West spend 5 hours A DAY just cleaning the house and cooking?
My maid does a total of 2.5 hours of work in my home each day, I cook continental for myself, leaving her the job of cooking DH’s Indian fare. The amount of clothes I send out a week for Ironing probably tally up to 1 hour of ironing for whoever does it. And with all this taken care of, I easily spend 2-3 hours a day cleaning stuff my maid doesn’t, organizing stuff, de-cluttering, cooking, storing away clean dishes, sorting out clean laundry, folding away what doesn’t need to be ironed, hunting mosquitoes and pests (fortunately not too much of these in this current apartment), watering the plants…then picking up Ishita in school and doing all child related activities with her.

Now people from back home, don’t tell me you wouldn’t get help if you could given the circumstances? Don’t tell me that you think 5 hours of cleaning a day is no biggie and that I must be lazy for wanting to cut some of it out.
And if you still think I am lazy and spoiled, can you then blame me for giving some work to a person who needs it to feed her kids? Can you blame me for keeping a person off the street by encouraging honest hard work?

I didn’t think so!

7 comments

  1. Amen to that! The Delhi dirt is driving me insane!!

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  2. I can't fully review the Delhi dirt because I never stayed there long enough for it to drive me that crazy, but I have a feeling that it's pretty much the same as the Mumbai dirt, which is pretty gross. Bangalore was dirty too but not as much as Mumbai, and I could go through the Summer in Bangalore without soaking wet an outfit in 10 minutes and on occasion wearing a t-shirt more than once, but the last place we stayed there was on the side of a main road and I had to dust things twice a day.

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  3. I will confirm that Delhi dirt, soot & grime are quite maddening.
    I make no apologies for my 2 maids, nanny & gardener.
    I don't think people from western developed countries realize that me don't have the popular cleaning supplies & appliances available to them.
    I don't even have a decent mop or broom. Paper towels are a luxury that must be sought out & hoarded when you can find them. I wish I had my disposable mop'n'glo swiffer thing, or a mop/broom/duster that didn't fall apart when you are using it. I wished I had realized to pack an Oxo brand broom & mop & some spray furniture polish in the container I had shipped from the US. A quality full sized ironing board would have been nice also.
    No, I can't run down to Walmart, Tesco, or Migros or any other retail store & buy them.
    Everything has to be done the 'old fashioned way' (by hand) often with poorly made tools that make even the smallest job a time consuming chore. Ughhhhh!!!!

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  4. Oops! that should have read-
    I don't think people from western developed countries realize that WE don't have the popular cleaning supplies & appliances available to them.

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  5. Hélène H7:51 PM

    It was interesting to hear about the pollution in Mumbai. When I viisted India I was appalled at all the things I had to do to keep my face clean. At home I only use soap but in India, I needed 3 products.
    If you can afford a maid why not use one ? It helps you and it helps her.

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  6. Yeah on most days I need two cleaning products to keep my face clean: a good face wash and a toner, once a week I need to do a solid face scrub too (I rarely did one in Switzerland).
    My skin is dry and sensitive, it needs a lot of TLC, so I also upgraded to an anti-ageing cream last year, not because I have wrinkles or anything, but because of how dry it is, cold cream doesn't work, I think I have an allergy to Nivea cream, and since the first sign of skin ageing is dry skin anyway I figured out that an anti-wrinkle cream was richer and more nourishing than a regular one, I was right, and it keeps my skin from itching too much when exposed to too much pollution too (I still have to do a heavy cleanse everyday though)

    And I agree, if one can afford a maid and any housekeeping service in India, it would be dumb not to go for it for so many reasons :-)

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  7. I can't fully review the Delhi dirt because I never stayed there long enough for it to drive me that crazy, but I have a feeling that it's pretty much the same as the Mumbai dirt, which is pretty gross. Bangalore was dirty too but not as much as Mumbai, and I could go through the Summer in Bangalore without soaking wet an outfit in 10 minutes and on occasion wearing a t-shirt more than once, but the last place we stayed there was on the side of a main road and I had to dust things twice a day.

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