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Do You Really Need A Maid?

“I Can Do My Own Damn Housework” Versus “I Can’t Live Without One”

The world is divided into two kinds of places – one where middle-class folks can afford to hire housekeepers and one where such a luxury is strictly the purview of the rich. Most of the developing world falls into the former category, and most of the developed world falls into the latter (how many Indians have moved back home from abroad for this very reason?). One element to note, however, is that rich countries tend to have a lot of support – from electronic dishwashers to easily available daycare to trash compactors – that help ease the household burden. Still, having a maid anywhere can free up valuable time that could otherwise be spent on pursuits you deem more worthwhile than cleaning toilets. Of course there’s the potential downside of lost privacy, stolen goods, personality clashes and other undesirable outcomes. In this story, psychologist Dr. Charlane Pereira e Rebello delves into the pros and cons of having maids, and makes a special plea to  treat them well.

Do you run around your home-sweet-home in your bare essentials sweeping and mopping your cozy nest? Or are you the type who has a live-in maid who caters to all your needs? Or perhaps you have a regular maid who comes to do the cleaning, a second maid just to whip up yummy edibles, and maybe even a third to change your baby’s diapers?

All of the above is OK, I suppose, but do consider the potential cost to your waistline if you are the type of person who doesn’t feel the need to lift a finger, let alone an arm or a leg.

Research speaks volumes about housework being counted as exercise. In a study published this year in the journal Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers and Prevention, women who spent an average of 16 to 17 hours a week cooking, cleaning and doing laundry had lower rates of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, bad cholesterol and stroke. Of course, if you’re engaged in a rigorous exercise program like the one outlined here, you might not need the added health benefits of table polishing and cobweb removing. Still, here in India many of us tend to lead a rather sedentary lifestyle, and an easy way to remedy that without having to sign up for the Goa Marathon is to simply do your own housework.

Physicians these days advise their patients of all ages, shapes and sizes, “Please walk. Don’t be seated in one place at all times. Lead an active life!”

Aruna Pereira from Chinchinim in South Goa says she’s been able to lead a perfectly fulfilling life while doing her own chores, though she doesn’t do them alone.

“I do all the household work with my husband’s aid. With such basic household needs taken care of, I reserve the afternoon hours for giving French tuitions,” Aruna explains. “I have never felt much of a need for a maid though I am in my 60s now. I remember hiring a maid only when my two kids were tiny and they needed a nanny as I was working full-time and didn’t want to be leave my good job.”

Meena, on the other hand, would certainly have a more difficult life is she didn’t have the help of a maid.

“I live all by myself. As my only daughter is long married and stays abroad with her husband, and the fact that I am in my mid 70s made me hire a maid. With the help of a regular maid who sees to sweeping, cleaning and raking leaves on a daily basis, I feel content with myself. My morning hours can be solely devoted to cooking,” she says.

For those getting on in years, some household chores may prove to be physically exhausting. It’s not uncommon in Goa to see elderly people with NRI children living abroad who send money home each month, some of which goes to maintaining household help.

Another trend in Goa is quite a bit more troubling: hiring underage girls from neighboring or far-off states to clean one’s house. First, one must understand that hiring a person below 16 years of age for any job is illegal. Second, children need to be in school getting an education, not cooking your fish curry rice.

Some folks try to allay their consciences for this abhorrent practice by paying for the girl’s education, telling themselves that she’s better off here in Goa than in her own state.

I spoke to one man named Albert who was opposed to hiring these young girls but for all the wrong reasons, saying, “Invariably, these girls get into trouble with young drunken men wreaking havoc to the employer’s household,” adding that “they get involved in crimes and petty thefts” and that they’re “a bad influence for the young children.”

Sorry, stealing a trinket may be a petty crime, but hiring a minor girl to clean your house is a major one. If you really want to help someone in need, there are better ways to do it that do not involve exploitation of children or breaking the law.

The complaints about maids are ubiquitous, some justified to be sure, but others betraying a certain imperiousness that somehow seems to deny the humanity of the women (and some men) who give up all or most of their time in their own homes to work in someone else’s, often for a pittance of a salary.

One young homemaker I spoke to had some legitimate complaints to be sure, and yet I sensed a certain lack of empathy in her words.

“I had a maid for about a year,” she said. “However, she expected to be treated like a queen rather than an employee. She would walk in and walk out as per her whims and fancies. No fixed timings!”

She adds, “Many a times, we were faced with delays of an hour or two while our patience was put to test. At other times, we had to drop her off to her home due to lack of transport and her delayed timings. My husband and I realized that she would more of a time and money waster. We gave her the boot after she was found stealing food, utensils and other trivial household items.”

Remember, dear reader, these souls that we bring into our homes to sweep and swab are people, too, just like you and me.

Listen to these words from Kiterin, a maid from Navelim who visits two houses in a day: “Although I am in my 50s, I work hard to make ends meet. My husband passed away many years back. He used to drink a lot and abuse me. My only son left his studies and is looking out for a job. Times are difficult. Sometimes, my employer gives me her old clothes.”

So please, if you’re unwilling or unable to do your own housework for any reason, at least show some respect for the people who do it for you.