I’d written this piece previously for an online publication. It is reproduced here with a few changes.
I feel a sense of relief when I see my maid in the morning. I guess that is why she is called the ‘calm walibai’.” — received on WhatsApp.
These are the lines I wake up to on a dull, foggy morning and as with most forwarded messages on my phone, I see divine truth revealed in this one.
Irrespective of what your horoscope tells you, it is the bai (maid/help) and not the stars that determine the sort of day awaiting you and what your long term future looks like.
In my case, both appear as bleak as the weather, for my wonderful help Sarita has abandoned me to my fate.
Nazar lag gayi, what else!
For years I had been the cynosure of all eyes in my residential complex — ‘the lady with the full-time maid!’
While my friends cribbed about household chores and unappreciative husbands, I pared my nails and lectured them: “When you don’t do any work you don’t need to look for appreciation anyway. The secret to a happy married life — if such a thing exists — is a good maid.”
After all, Sarita had just handed me my cup of chai and a Good Day biscuit. There could only be achche din (good days) ahead.
I didn’t spare the career-oriented, corporate sort either: “Let me tell you what you already know — a bai can make or break your career. Between Sheryl Sandberg asking you to ‘lean bloody in’ and your mother-in-law pulling you back with a ‘ghar pe dhyan do bahu‘, how is a woman to find her balance without the support of a trusted maid?”
The bai is not just your corporate success mantra — without her in your life, you have no time for WhatsApp, Facebook or, horror-of-horrors, any gossip even!
In short, you have no life.
Consider these two conversations with my soulmate, Mrs Aishwarya Ranganathan, better known as Aishu (who lives in a God forsaken land called America, where they have no help, poor souls).
Sample conversation 1 (when there is Sarita in my life)
Aishu (sound of coconut-grating in the background): What is this WhatsApp message you have forwarded to me?
She gets her second husband to kill and I can’t get my first one to pick his towel off the floor!
What does it all mean? Who is this lady?
Me: It is referring to Indrani Mukerjea, duh, who else.
Aishu: Who? Sorry, but I still don’t get you…
Me (in genuine bewilderment): Don’t tell me!! You haven’t heard of the sensational murder case yet!
Aishu (tearfully): Where have I had time yaar? Always cleaning, washing and cooking. Fill me in on the details na, please.
Me (patronisingly): Well with the help of her 2nd husband, she killed the daughter she had with her 1st husband. And her 3rd husband’s role in all this seems a bit fishy too.
Aishu: Oh! Why do you think so?
Me: Well Arnab thinks Peter Mukerjea has a lot to explain and Arnab of course is always right.
Aishu: Hmm…I see… you make so much sense and are so well-updated on everything. Aiyooo…got to rush…my sambar is getting burnt.
I know of course that she too is burning with jealousy and not just her sambar.
Me: (preening, smug, supercilious and loud enough for Aishu to hear): Saritaaaaa….ek cupchaaai laanaaa…”
By now Mrs Aishwarya Ranganathan is feeling the same murderous rage that Mrs Indrani Mukerjea felt, and my day is made.
Sample conversation 2 (when there is no Sarita in my life)
Aishu: Shocking how Hrithik and Sussanne have split, no?
Me: Whaatt! When did that happen?
Stunned silence at the US end. Coconut grating and other activities temporarily suspended.
Aishu: Don’t you read anything? Which world have you been in?
Me to myself: A joyless, bai-less world.
To her (in an outraged, highly offended tone like someone I know on The Newshour): What will become of this world I ask you! If men are going to keep abandoning their wives for other scheming, plotting women where will it lead the nation to, I want to know? Never, ever, ever…trust a man I tell you!
Aishu (with an effort at patience): But it’s the wife who left him. And supposedly for Arjun Rampal.
Me (jhadu dropped and both hands on cheek Miss Universe style): No!!
Aishu: Hrithik, Sussanne and Arjun are already vociferously denying all this. You don’t need to add your voice to that.
Me (now in a completely changed, empathetic tone): Poor Sussanne. Driven to the arms of another man because of her insensitive husband. Never, ever, ever….
Aishu (cutting me short — patience was never her virtue): By the way… did I tell you I’m off to Hawaii for a bit, to escape this unbearable weather?
By now I start to feel a bout of depression induced headache coming on, and Aishu’s day is made.
After Sarita’s cruel abandonment, I learnt to deal with tasks which people mistakenly categorise as unskilled labour — like swabbing the floor. But culinary skills were beyond me.
“It is a fine art,” my husband had declared. “I am taking charge of it. 15 minutes is all it takes to serve up something.” (“But the kitchen looks a battlefield when you’re done and takes 15 hours to restore to its former self,” I didn’t add.)
“It is very soothing, therapeutic even, to wash dishes and fold clothes,” I’d offered. (“But that is only when I have to write an article or file my tax returns — when every other chore seems most attractive,” I also forgot to add).
This continued for sometime, but to cut a long story short — we did not manage to stay supportive of each other’s culinary and other misadventures. My marriage is not as happy as it used to be with Sarita around — whoever said three is a crowd?
And I cannot focus on my career either, for I never had one to begin with.
“Behind every unsuccessful woman is a self-centred maid,” I want to tell everyone. But people are holidaying in Hawaii and have no time for my pearls of wisdom.
‘Inner peace, inner peace…’ I chant in vain to ward off envious thoughts. But calm is only where the bai is, and mine is no longer with me.