Friday, August 06, 2004

Tied to a Tiger's tail...

This morning I awoke with sweat drenching my teeshirt. As I unsealed my slumburous eyes, it was the innocent face of my maid, Revati that I registered. She had been sweeping the floor and had hence switched off the fan, which was the result of the overwhelming sultriness in the room. As I turned around to let the sweat evaporate and cool my burning back, I noticed that she was sending me guilty, hesitant glances, fearful of having subtly offended me. I felt a pinprick of some inexplicable discomfort; so I swung lazily from the bed and ambled along to the restroom...

When I reached the kitchen to get my filter-coffeed dose of caffeine, I noticed that on the table alongside 'The Hindu', a steaming cup of coffee concocted to the perfect brown sat in frothy anticipation. I mumbled a 'thankyou' under my breath and noticed that the samaritan of this client-care had already finished work and left, closing the door softly behind her. I caught myself basking in the attention for a few moments; but instead of the pleasure bringing the familiar warmth, I felt that pinprick again. As I went through another vacation day rocking in the living room chair and aimlessly channel surfing, I delibrately maneuvered my mind from meandering to the square-cut mangoes chilling in the refrigerator, the odor of naptheline amidst neatly arranged towels in the almirah shelf and my suitcases duly unpacked and put away. If this were a hotel I would be demanding this hospitality in return for finanical reimbursement.But here at my own home, this service which costed pittance was all but asphyxiating me...

Sometimes i wonder how i survived time abroad even doing dishes and pressing clothes myself. I reminisced the times I served coffee for a little pocket money, and I still cannot feel an aota of empathy for what my maid must be feeling in her line of work. Ofcourse the social strataification there accomodated a certain dignity that is conspicious in its absence here in India. Dignity of labor, that's what they called it. Not even in a million years will I be able to coherently explain to Revati the concept of actually being able to work for 'pocket-money' or that many maids who clean houses actually, conceivably climb the social ladders to equal their employers.The divide here, not only swallows up such naive possibilities, also ingrains the permanence of the discrimination, be it caste or class. Yesterday Revati gloated to my mom that I had thanked her for the sliced mangoes, even though at that moment she had stared at me like I was insane. I understood that the syntax of the labor heirarchy in our culture forbids such liberties. I am not going to advocate the abrogation of the entire maid system, no way. It still provides for many homes and educates many a child, not to forget the provision of familial contingencies in cases of alchoholic patriarchs.

PS: Hence forth you will be previleged to witness two of my alteregoes debating about the issue. One is a rebel and the other is a conformist.Both of these pretend to be rationalists and prove their point..

But, something irks me, what is it, I wonder? I begin to envisage a circumstance which I hope will take me closer to my quest. Graphic and masochistic, I imagine my mom twenty shades darker, twenty pounds lighter, collar bones protruding like skin-razors working for Revati: the upper-middle class suburban householder in my little dream. Bile rises from my insides,and I pump the television volume all the way up to counter the visceral reaction. The shrill voice of the diva fortunately disrupts my reverie, and I float down to normalcy. The rationalist in me wants to investigate the cause and significance of what I had just felt. Was it because I didn't ever want to see my mom in such a place? in such adverse circumstances? Yes..most definitely. Simple. I wanted a better life for her...Did her being my mom have something to do with it? Yes...and No. If No then why?
Tangentially I remember the previous morning, when I handed Revati's daughter a bar of foreign chocolate, I had causally asked her what she wanted to be, when she 'grew up'? "A nurse", she had replied. A pause later she clarified her statement adding that she neither wanted to be a doctor (as it simply wasn't practical) nor a maid servant(as it simply wasn't life!).

Right. So what is it that irks me, again? Yes, yes..something about the Maid system..My brain whiizzes through possible explanations emanating from Caste theories classism associated with individual castes, Marx,Dubois,Pareto,Gandhi,ML King,Weber...(sigh)..Well, maybe caste had something to do with it. Afterall, 95% of the maids working in inner-city Madras belonged to backward castes. Wait a minute..I knew of several brahmin maids who worked in agraharams down south in those idyllic villages.(You see, the rationalist in me wants a synthesis. She dissects the thesis and its antithesis)Yeah, so? Okay, so maybe caste matters, but there are significant exceptions. Okay wait a minute...

I rely on one more reverie to lead me further to the answer. .........Sunny afternoon. I am 10 years old. I lie on my mum's lap on our porch swing and the breeze follows us as we sway. Mum caresses my hair and asks,"So what do you want to become when you 'grow up'? and I reply: "I want to be a maid servant".
.....This time, I snap out of it faster even before i can register my mom's reaction in the dream. Okay..I get it. no one in their sane minds aspires to be a maid servant. It is the inevitable consequence of poverty, perpetuated by illiteracy, familial problems and maybe even caste affiliations. I attempt to think laterally, and land into the arena of occupational hazards. That probably was what it was. Occupational Hazards.. Like what? We all clean, we all cook. We all wash, we all ...okay. We all wash, cook and clean in our own homes, not the abysses of a layman's lavatory. (Before I begin to torture myself imagining my dad in a sewage disposal septic tank, I am checkmated.) So what does this deduction mean? It means that in some unconscious, sublimnal collective norm, these jobs are considered 'menial' mean, meanial like what the shudras were originally condemned to, in accordance with the Majestic Caste theory? Why, yes. Okay menial. But even Kamalhassan has to clean the contours of his comode after he has relieved himself. Yes..nuthead...but does he ever come over and clean yours?!?

Well, maybe it was pentup what? At the fact that there was no dignity to maid-servanting inspite of it being sexist and menial and racist..wait one moment - racist? Well, may be it was a bit out there, but I still have aunts and their friends and their friends who forbid maids to enter their little kitchennetes. (I am not referring to those'three days'..this is pretty much all of the miserable 30 days..) And do they get invited for any thing in the house? What aunt would give the maid all of the remaining food from the night before because they had to adhere to cooking fresh point exactly..Are you saying we should adopt them? Is that what you're saying you bitch? hah?

I realize I have strung myself onto a tiger's tail and after turning several circles, if I am still one thing, it is how I originally started - irked. After my Multiple personalities lie dormant, the rationalist asks in a tiny voice...what the fuck is your point anyways? hmmmm....


Blogger Anand said...

It is a poignantly sad situation that somehow, we in India seem to have taken for granted. Of course, one can talk about the possibility of social mobility, but never within a single generation.
When I see my American nephew wanting to be a truck driver or something else, it is strange. Obviously, his mother will not let him be one. Neither will he, ten years from now. But at-least a child sees some sort of glamour in the profession. But here, children are not taught to view every profession as equal (or positively lopsided). The idea of social hierarchy, economic hierarchy, professional hierarchy are so ingrained in us as kids, that before we learn to clean our own backsides, we learn to order servants around. Sad.. really sad.
BTW, I can see your real emotions coming through ever since you came home. Not that you blogged a lot in the US.

August 6, 2004 at 11:48 AM  
Blogger Anand said...

Check this out too

August 7, 2004 at 1:05 AM  
Blogger Mitochondria said...

Anand: The link is restricted. Is there any other way? Can you maybe cut and paste?

August 7, 2004 at 2:55 AM  
Blogger Anand said...

Try this

August 7, 2004 at 4:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hii..first time around. Ur name is what brought me here..Mitochondria:) Any specific reason for the name?

August 24, 2004 at 4:38 PM  

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