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July 20, 2013
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We are educating girls, raising their aspirations, even giving them a taste of professional life, and then asking them to rein in their ambitions.
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Why bahadur knows me best
After 25 years of cohabitation , what the staff doesn’t know about me isn’t worth knowing.
For those of us lucky enough to have domestic help in India, it is - most of the time - a blessing. A boon. A privilege. Without our staff, getting through an average Indian day would be tough. Bringing up our children would be that much more exhausting. Walking our dogs would be...no, actually let's not go down that route anymore, since it makes us all sound so shockingly lazy and pampered. But the fact remains that many of us are fortunate enough to have people working for us, who relieve some of the burdens of daily life. Is that acceptably phrased? There is, of course, a flipside to this, and I am not talking about having another family's set of problems and expenses and education and disputes to handle.
Those are par for the course. Staff look after you. You reciprocate. No two ways about it. In my case, the flipside is a discernible shift in relationships, after nearly a quarter of a century of co-habitation. No, no, not my husband, but the Nepalese staff who have been with us for nigh on 25 years. To put it bluntly what the Bahadurs don't know about us, isn't worth knowing. They have seen me from the day I arrived in Bombay, as it then was, with a five-month-old baby in tow, to the absent-minded, car-keys forgetting, firstname forgetting woman I now am. They have seen my children morph into adults. They saw my daughter in Breach Candy Hospital minutes after her birth, and months before either set of grandparents did. They have seen generations of kittens and puppies come into our various homes, and sadly die of old age. They have buried many of my pets with me, standing at the graveside while I wept inconsolably. They have moved home with us.
One of the Bahadurs lived with us abroad for six years. Living overseas - in an uberdangerous city like Johannesburg - changed our relationship irrevocably. With no suitable public transport and a shockingly high crime rate, Bahadur had to be treated exactly as my children were. I dropped him wherever he had to go, made sure he called me to let me know he was safe, collected him.
It's difficult to undo that kind of intimacy. And in the midst of all this, they, too, are ageing, and they, too, are starting to forget things, and we are all entering a new, even more confused part of our relationship.
One afternoon, Nar Bahadur came to me, looking stricken. "I made a quiche for lunch yesterday. But I forgot to tell you. I completely forgot. " Don't think he appreciated the smug ah-so-it's-now-happening-to-you-too reply.
Having relied on the Bahadurs to remember the things we forgot to do, life is now getting a tad hit-and-miss. Cheques to be deposited in my absence. Maaf karo, main bhool gaya. Plain and simple. He forgot.
Did you call the electrician, Bahadur ?
Arre, no. Forgot.
At least we still have a sense of humour. After a collective pow-wow over a phone number written on the kitchen whiteboard, with 'emergency' next to it, since none of us could remember who/what/why, we simply wiped it from the board. Much easier than fretting about it.
I had a classic moment a year or so ago. Hubby and children all away, and I was invited to a seriously posh party. As in OTT posh. I emerged looking as fabulous as I can manage, to see Yem Bahadur looking askance. "Nahi, memsahib, voh bag theek nahi hai, " he announced, as he suggested I take a matching evening bag, rather than the daringly contrasty fashion statement I had in mind.
Obviously he won.
But all is not doom and gloom in this evolving relationship.
Thank God for my children and their children. When Bahadur's nephew had a medical problem that involved lots of waiting to see doctors and collecting reports and getting appointments, my daughter drove Bahadur's teenaged daughter to the hospital, where the latter briskly dealt with everything, in good English and even better Hindi.
This evolution in the generations is fascinating.
The decision of Bahadur's daughter to study chemistry and physics for her 12th was taken in consultation with us, as well as with her parents. The young lady wanted to be sure that her subject choices were correct, and answered our queries about her future plans with a cool composure that her parents, bless them, simply do not have.
And so we muddle on, forgetting names, all of us misplacing the wretched car keys, but certainly laughing more than we used to do.
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