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Nanny Diaries

Ayah to au pair

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TOTTERNAMA: Young Vedantha is more a friend and playmate to 17-year-old Ester than a ward

Babysitters who put the child to sleep after a generous dose of Benadryl are a bad memory. Now, parents hire English-speaking au pairs who groom the kids in social graces even as they polish their alphabet and numbers.

Ralamelu gets up early in the morning and prepares rasam and rice for her family before rushing off to work. There she transforms to Amu, the super-efficient nanny who loads the dishwasher before rustling up pasta for her charges - a three-year-old girl and two boys aged eight and six. "They are like my own children," says Alamelu, in fluent English. "The family will soon move out of the country and I am going to really miss them."

Alamelu, or Amu as her Finnish employers call her, is not worried about landing another job. "Another Finnish family in Chennai has already contacted me and I'll be looking after their kids from August," she says.

With an increasing number of expats moving to Indian metros, English-speaking nannies like Alamelu are in great demand. When French nationals, Ludivine Vinchon and her husband, moved to Mumbai, they chose to hire a nanny for their son Gauthier, rather than send him to playschool. "It was the more convenient option since both of us have full-time jobs," says Vinchon, who lives in Breach Candy. "She takes my son to the nearby club where all the neighbourhood nannies collect and the children play together," says the mother of the 20-month-old.

Even upper middle-class Indians, especially those who have lived abroad, prefer trained nannies to the local amma. "I wanted someone who I could trust and who could interact with my son," says Sunitha Vikram, project manager with a pharmaceutical company in Chennai. "I wanted the nanny to understand that there are clear boundaries about what is acceptable or not in a child's behaviour," says Sunitha, who lived in the UK for a long time before moving back to Chennai two years ago.

"Traditional nannies usually let the child throw tantrums;when it is not your child, you just want to pacify her. But I don't do that, or cater to my child's every whim and fancy. If the child cries without reason, so be it." Sunitha has clear rules for her two-and-a-half-year-old son, Vedantha, which she expects her nanny to follow. For instance, he cannot stay up after 7 pm or watch more than half an hour of TV every day.

Sunitha was also on the look-out for someone who has a good command over English. "I wanted someone who has a comfort level with the language, so they can really understand the rhymes and stories that they read out to him," she says.
Vedantha has two young girls attending on him once he comes back from playschool - 16-year-old K Ramani and 17-year-old A Esther. Both girls, who are with the Nivedita Charitable Trust, pursue their schooling through the National Institute of Open Schooling and spend their afternoons with Vedantha.

"If Esther takes care of Vedantha one month, then I take over the next," says Ramani. "We bathe and feed him, take him out on play dates and also teach him rhymes," she says. For both Ramani and Esther, Vedantha is more of a friend and playmate than a ward. "I love children and want to be a Montessori teacher," says Esther. Usually, a nanny's duties only involve taking care of the child. Some, like Alamelu, may extend their services to a bit of cooking.

However, what many parents are looking for are nannies who can also play the role of a substitute parent or teacher. Vaishali Mehta, a 32-year-old Pune-based homemaker, is a part-time governess who doesn't limit her job profile to just overseeing a child. As a substitute parent, Vaishali's role extends to that of a caretaker, tutor and entertainer.

Vaishali uses play-way method to teach everything from social graces and manners to alphabet and numbers. "On some days, I take the child out to visit the zoo or park. Other days, I let the child squish dough and play around," says Vaishali, who has worked as a babysitter in Dubai.

Agencies have also cropped up, which help clients find the right kind of nanny or governess for their child. New Delhibased Domesteq Service Solutions Pvt Ltd was launched in March 2007 by Shawn Runacres. "We set up the agency originally to provide the expat community with a way of finding domestic staff that had previous experience," says Shawn, a UC Berkeley graduate. Within 18 months, Domesteq created their training centre and began courses in cooking, housekeeping, first aid, and childcare basics for domestic staff.

"By late 2008, we expanded our operations to respond to the many requests for domestic staff from returning NRI families as well as local Delhiites. Many of them wanted Englishspeaking ayahs," says Shawn. Domesteq places about 30-50 such ayahs in a month. Once you register with Domesteq, one of their consultants interviews the client to get a fix on their lifestyle and requirements. After that, suitable candidates are shortlisted and clients can interview them.

Such domestic staff, however, comes at a premium. English-speaking nannies charge anything from Rs 3,500 to Rs 11,000, depending upon the number of hours they work and the nature of duties involved.

But it's not always about money. Often, close bonds form between the nanny and the child. "My Finnish employers paid for the education of both my college-going children. They even gifted them a computer as it will help them with their studies," says Alamelu. "Many of the children I cared for still mail me and send photos. They will always be special to me."

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