2014: Time To Grow Up & Not Old!

“Aap baithiye aunty,” said a college-goer as I vacated my seat for her disabled friend. Between a bunch of giggly young girls with naive jokes about winters, warmth and boys I am being pushed towards a generation that I am not really willing to be part of. But every other day as I travel through the metro I realise that I am indeed growing old.

The 2nd day of the year and to be called ‘aunty’ right at the start is not a bad thing really. Especially when my son’s friends call me ‘aunty’. But hell, no.. this is killing me. Because really these girls aren’t my son’s age and I am not sure I will make friends of their parents.

The day has passed and the emotions have ebbed. I have realised that by pinning a younger profile picture on my blog or Facebook will not really make me younger. It will only deceive my virtual friends into believing that I am a stunner! :p

I have nothing against growing old. I love greying hair and I naturally dislike the habit of hair colour. I was born with paper thin skin that began wrinkling when I was in my early twenties. Appearances matter little to me…anyone who knows me will know its true. It isn’t growing old that I am worried about. I fear that as years roll by I am losing a grip of the younger me. The one who was a risk taker, an optimist, happier, confident and a go-getter. As I am growing old I am becoming someone I don’t necessarily like. And that is what worries me. An old grumpy, grouchy, wistful ‘aunty’…I definitely don’t wanna be that.

So perhaps it’s time to grow up and accept the vagaries of the mid-thirties. It’s time to brush away the cobwebs and clean the corners. Time to de-clutter and throw the baggage. Time to look up and not away. It’s time to begin where I never have. It’s time to change everything that I haven’t. The beginning of the year is a good time to dispel my mind’s fears and take charge of my life…

This new year I won’t set out my resolutions. I am not too good at setting goals. I give up too soon. I lack the discipline and motivation when it comes to achieving simple tasks. So no more resolutions of I will do this and that…a slight tweaking of priorities and life’s goals this year I hope to push out the negativity and weaknesses in my mind, heart and body.

So here you go…in no specific order a set of things I will NOT do in 2014:

1) I will not blame my laziness for every unfinished task in my life. That includes the cupboard!

2) I will not drown myself in self-doubt.

3) I will not believe anyone when they say “You cannot”.

4) I will not depend on someone to love me and make me feel important.

5) I will not assume that I am the centre of universe of another’s life…including my son’s!

6) I will not be apologetic for my emotions.

7) I will not be troubled by the voices in my head.

8) I will not be scared of risks.

9) I will not wait for help.

10) I will not give up the pursuit of happiness and good health.

So 2014…bring it on!

I Have A Dream…

For as long as I remember, the word ‘dream’ translated into a beautiful song. A song from my childhood, from ABBA. Like any other kid of the 80’s and 90’s, I grew up listening to ABBA. And long before I actually understood the lyrics and meaning of songs, this one stayed a firm favourite. At one point of time, this song was also part of our school drill.

Some memories, some anecdotes, some dreams of my own…the best way to describe this song would be to call it the background score of all that I wanted to achieve in my life.

As I grow older, I have come to dream lesser. There is no longer an innocence of a dream. I no longer look at an unachievable goal in my life as sigh saying, “I wish I could do that!” I no longer hope and pray for anything in particular. Not for myself. But always for others. Let’s say, I think I have forgotten to dream. A little jaded and perhaps a cynical confession here, maybe it is time I bring this song back into my life.

I have a dream, a song to sing
To help me cope with anything
If you see the wonder of a fairy tale
You can take the future even if you fail
I believe in angels
Something good in everything I see
I believe in angels
When I know the time is right for me
I’ll cross the stream – I have a dream
I have a dream, a fantasy
To help me through reality
And my destination makes it worth the while
Pushing through the darkness still another mile
I believe in angels
Something good in everything I see
I believe in angels
When I know the time is right for me
I’ll cross the stream – I have a dream
I’ll cross the stream – I have a dream
I have a dream, a song to sing
To help me cope with anything
If you see the wonder of a fairy tale
You can take the future even if you fail
I believe in angels
Something good in everything I see
I believe in angels
When I know the time is right for me
I’ll cross the stream – I have a dream
I’ll cross the stream – I have a dream

I Have a Dream–ABBA

 

 

I am taking part in The Write Tribe Festival of Words 8th – 14th December 2013. Today’s prompt is ‘Dreams’.

Hushed Screams

Where are you Maa? I can’t hear you here. Everyone else I hear . Papa, Daadi, Dada. I can hear Naani cry. Her voice is just like yours. I remember you telling me that you are just like her. Her mirror image. But where are you Maa? I want to hear your voice again.

So many voices but I can’t hear yours. The one that I know best. The one that defines my life. It belongs to me. Your voice is my rhythm. My heartbeat. My only source of music.

Yes Maa, I love your voice. It calms me more than anything else in this world. When everything else in the world is a buzz, I can always hear you. Loud, clear and beautiful.

Remember that tune you hum. How does it go? Ta-ra-hmm…la – ri – ta…I have heard it so many times, but I still can’t get it right. Can you sing to me again?

You always tell me to stay calm. Even when the noise of the cooker whistle alarms me. Or that rude horn of Papa’s car. Why does he honk so much? There is no music in his car. Just like his voice. Always grunting. Always shouting. Always alarming. Did I tell you I am scared of his voice?

I know you love to read. The thud of a book on the night stand, the soft rustle of the pages of your book. You gently tap your book at the edge as your read. Reading and soaking all that your eyes cover. Yes, Maa I can hear that too.

Your telephone has a lovely chant too. Not like Papa’s shrieking tring-tring. Isn’t the sound on your phone the Veena piece you play? Is that you Maa? Is it your tune?

I love to hear you doing your riyaaz. You say it calms you, gives you strength. To me it is the most magical hour of the day. As you sit and position your Veena, I can hear you breathe. As you close your eyes, the voice travels from your stomach, up your throat. And there comes the silken voice that always makes me smile. As your negotiate the crests and troughs of your raag my heartbeat moves in sync. Sometimes fast, sometimes at its usual rhythm.

Where is that magical voice Maa? Where are you?

When you say you will protect me, I believe you. Like that day when the loudspeakers blared all night? When there were people knocking at our doors. I was restless that night. Scared of them. Scared that they would come to get us. You said, there is a riot outside. You shut the windows. Thud. The voices deadened. And then to calm yourself and me, you began humming that song again.

Ta-ra-hmm…la – ri – ta…Where are you Maa? I want to hear that sound again.

And then you stopped singing. You talked to me. You read the Gita. You prayed to God. But you didn’t sing that song. I was restless again. The night before you and Papa had a  fight. Thud I heard you fall. No you screamed. You can’t do this now. You can’t do anything now? Accept her  you said. Accept us you cried.

He shouted at you. Called you names. Even me. I wanted to hug you Maa. I know you were hurt. I could see you bleeding. Your heart was bleeding.

And then…all of a sudden you stopped singing.

Where are you Maa? Why can’t I hear you sing again?

I remember the rocking of the train. It lulled us both to sleep. The roar of the sea. The sound of the seagulls. These were all new sounds to me. You said we were on a holiday. Just you and me.

And then I think I heard it once again…Ta-ra-hmm…la – ri – ta…Maa I still can’t remember the rest of it.

You went to the beach for three days. You didn’t talk to anyone. You didn’t hum your song again. There was no Veena. No riyaaz. No music. You didn’t even talk to me. But I was happy. Because I could now hear your heartbeat. Loud, clear and beautiful.

And then one night I heard your voice for the last time. I am sorry you said. I heard the sea again. The water. The sound got closer, louder. Your heart beat faster. I woke up. Alarmed. Scared. I kicked hard. I tried to tell you that I am worried. You clutched you tummy hard. I could almost feel your grip on my bones.

And then there was a silence. I could hear nothing. Not you…not anyone.

I can hear everyone now. I can hear Papa say She walked into the sea. I can hear Nani cry. Yes, her voice reminds me of you. But where are you Maa? Why can’t I hear you now?

II am taking part in The Write Tribe Festival of Words 8th – 14th December 2013. Today’s prompt is ‘Music’.

Write Tribe

Goodbye 66

What do you call a house? A structure of four walls and a roof where a family lives, perhaps? A home? A nook where one lives  her life. In my 32 years, I have lived in many houses. But if there is one place that I call home, it is where you stand. 66 New Baradwari. On my passport, in my psyche, in my sub-conscious, my heart and in my life…if there is any place I call home, it is this one address.

We met when I was 8. Maa and Mimi (maasi) where making daily trips to transfer small items and settle the house. I’d insist on going with them, but they thought I’d be a nuisance. That one day when they took me to Baradwari, I met some of my school friends in the neighbourhood. I disappeared into one of the homes for the next few hours, blissful that I already had friends around. I fell in love with you that day.

You were bigger than the house we had lived in earlier. Baba’s room had an air conditioner now. Our first in the house, because the earlier occupants left theirs! Baba got it painted and offloaded his noisy air cooler to our room. Years later, the air-conditioner came to our room, but by then, it had stopped cooling. It remained as a piece for such a long, long time until birds made nests inside! Remember that?

Sometime later, we got new furniture. Our room was done in pink and white. You see, both of us were young, Saurav (my brother) and I. We got a jute swing in the verandah, a coir rug on the floor. Maa brought in love for plants and we had huge palm pots taking up a lot of space.

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Saurav had a little corner to himself on the verandah. He would stand on a stool (with a glass top) and look at cars passing by. He loved the Contessa as a child and his baby eyes would wait for one car to pass by the house. Remember you jumped so hard that he broke the glass and cut himself? He was so so naughty!

A few years later, you got a fresh coat of paint. Maa had asked Saurav not to touch the walls. But the little terror that he was, he landed a perfect kick on the wall leaving behind a small brown stain. Maa got furious and she hit him with a torn calendar. It bruised his leg and shed a small trickle of blood. He still reminds Maa about it…saying he was punished for dirtying your walls. As the years rolled by, you survived more of his onslaughts. Afternoons spent bouncing the ball off your back while Saurav hit it with a bat and Maa tried to sleep.

You remember how Saurav would whizz down the length of the corridor on his tricycle? Maa would stuff his mouth with a ball of rice and off he’d go wheeling down the passage till he hit something and stopped. Turn around and the drill continued till he finished his lunch.

Enough of his stories now…

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You remember how I skipped my milk? Downed the cup’s contents from the window of my room; oblivious of the fact that Baba was on his way back from the weekend bazaar, looking up at the window, watching my hand sneak out and in of the window.

Or that time when I went up to the terrace and emptied the contents of my tiffin? Maa had seen me get off the bus and climb up to the terrace. I had dropped the spoon with the idlis on your parapet. I was more worried about the spoon!

The terrace! How we loved playing on the sun-kissed deck. Remember that huge cemented water tank? As long as it was there it caused a perpetual damp in Baba – Maa’s room. But we liked it always. I remember us sitting there, that picture of Saurav dressed as Daaku Potato (dressed as a dacoit for a fancy dress competition) was taken on it. Years later when schools were closed due to riots, we spent lazy winter mornings playing on the terrace. As I grew up, we had loud dance parties on the terrace. Me and my friends…Gosh! The amount of noise we made.

Our rooms got another makeover. We were growing up and this time we had dark blue and red furniture. Our own study tables. Bookshelves and enough privacy with our beds separated. And since Saurav was sent to boarding school, I had the entire room to myself! J

Remember that little red phone? How many conversations was my room privy to? Late night gossip sessions with friends, A and I had just started talking on the phone…

My room…so many, many memories. Of growing up, confessions, secrets, whispered dreams and lonely tears. The walls were covered with posters – Shah Rukh Khan, Tom Cruise, Michael Jackson, Beverly Hills 90210 – some of which I made my friends climb up and sign. They gave me those as gifts. The posters remained on the walls, long after I grew up. Long after I left home and moved to Delhi. Long after I started working. They were part of you…my space…my room.

You remember the sleepovers I had in my house? Friends staying over? Our house was the only one where parents didn’t bother us J I miss those pyjama parties. I miss my friends and I miss my room.

Do you remember the birthday parties? Mimi would come from Kolkata, yield her magic and put together a treasure hunt! And of course, you, our house was so big that kids could run from one corner to another looking for clues and the secret prize.

Choto ghor (the small room) had suddenly become a favourite during my board exams. I turned it into a special nook for studies. Put together a study table, a table lamp and a bean bag for leisure. It was a room away from my usual room. Choto ghor, unless the washing machine was running was a quiet corner of the house. And I loved claiming it for myself. What I did to humour myself!

Remember that time when the cow climbed up the stairs and couldn’t turn around to get down? How he emptied his bowels on the stairs!

Or the fruitless mango tree and mulberry bush? Kids from the government school would climb its branches. We were always so scared that they would fall and hurt themselves. Someone did, actually. Remember how I made Saurav bark like a dog to scare the kids away?

The garage has its own stories. A and Saurav playing cricket as kids. The Valentine’s day stalker was locked up till the police came!

Thamu (grandma) had her own room. She played devil every morning when she turned on the hot water tap in her bathroom. We shared the geyser in the bathrooms, between her loo and Maa’s and we screamed and protested between hot and cold showers. She of course claimed the drawing room in the afternoons to watch television. And we could never do anything about it! Come Saraswati Pujo and her room found instant reverence. Our books would pile up before the goddess and I would hope Thamu would convince her to bless us.

Maa was always obsessed with the house. To keep it spic and span. To tidy the table cover. To keep our things in place. Once back from a trip, she would pick up her jhaanta & neta (broom and duster) to restore to your beauty.

66-5

You bore the brunt of the fire accident too. Looking back at 1996 and remembering that evening when the generator burst and Maa got burnt…I am still amazed at how you survived. The fire was big enough to take down the house. But like a little miracle, you took it in a stride. That cable wire which had burnt its length and melted all the way to the edge of the ventilator didn’t go inside the room. The windows burst but the silk curtains didn’t catch fire. The room was covered in soot, all dark, black and morbid…but nothing caught fire. Not the foam cushions, the huge bookshelf or the countless books standing on it.

It was within your walls that we brought back Maa from the hospital. It was in the same passage that Maa started to walk again. Years later, went we brought back an injured Saurav from the hospital, another part of the house lent its walls for his recovery. The ground floor was mostly empty, making everyone believe that we were owners of the house. If we hadn’t had that floor, we would have been compelled to keep Saurav in the hospital longer. Thanks to the ground floor, we brought back Saurav earlier. We painted the room for him. Brought in the TV. An air-conditioner too. And yes, curtains…because he wanted the room to look like a room. As long as Saurav lived on the ground floor, all he wanted to do was climb up the stairs to our home.

Ever since he was a boy, to even now I believe he goes into every room. Every time he returned from boarding school, or came back after a golf tour, he would go from room-to-room; looking into cupboards, pulling out drawers. Covering every inch of the house again, even the bathrooms. He didn’t like things changing. Such was his love for you.

You have seen it all. Our childhood. My growing up. Our first kiss…A and mine. For A, who would cross my home several times on his blue bicycle, you are still the house that he cherishes. After all, it is right at your doors that he saw me for the first time. You have witnessed our friendship, our love… Remember how spoke on the phone, met at home but didn’t speak in school? Gosh…you have seen A and my story unfold! You have witnessed it all.

My marriage. I got married, but you continued to remain my permanent address. On my passport and my son’s. You were with me on my journey into motherhood. In that same room where I grew up from an adolescent, to a teenager…I spent my early days of motherhood in that room too. I cried again…the nervous wreck that I was. You saw me shed tears as I was battling baby blues. On your floors, my son crawled for the first time. Will he remember this house at all? Perhaps not!

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Yes, these are memories. These are all experiences that I have lived through. These are moments that I have spent inside you. To me, you are more than a house. You are home. You are my family. And just like I miss my family, I miss seeing you. Even now, I am happy as I set foot into 66. The moment I leave, I still feel a prick of pain and sadness.

In these 25 years, we stayed away only for 2.5 years…but call it divine design that Baba didn’t like his own house. Yes, we moved into our house, but Baba hated it there. We returned to you once again. By now you were heavily renovated and resembled a modern day house with tiled floors and false ceilings. Mosaic floors suited you better. 🙂

25 years ago, on this day we moved in to you, to make you our own. 25 years later, on this day again we leave you one last time. We move on, because we have to. Because you belong to someone else now…you always did actually. But we never realized that from being tenants, we began considering you our own.

None of us want to leave. Baba perhaps wanted to live at 66 till he breathed his last. Maa may have wanted a smaller, easy to clean house. But she wouldn’t trade it I know as long as we all stayed happy. Saurav would have wanted to ‘grow up’ to buy the house. And I would have always loved to go back to you…

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So Baba will have to let go off his favourite spot on the dining table for his morning cup of tea. Saurav will have to find new rooms to discover. Maa will find a new house to potter around. And Thamu will never walk again to see the new house.

But will I find new walls to speak to? Will I say ‘hello’ to the new house? Every time I leave the new house behind, will I tell the walls to take care of my family? I don’t know…

They tell me you will be razed to the ground…to be built again. I believe you have a soul, a soul that has loved us always…don’t stay back. Please come with us…

Good bye 66…as we leave you for the last time today…a little part of me ends forever.

Remembering 26/11 – Exploits of a Television Producer

I remember the night of 26/11. We were at a colleague’s wedding when the first reports of a gang war in Mumbai reached us. A videojournalist called his colleague in the Mumbai team and he said that there is news of gunfire in CST and around Cama Hosiptal. I remember reaching home that night to switch on the TV and spending the next few hours transfixed. This was no gang war. It was more than that.

I was working for a news channel which until then had a scattered viewership. 26/11 as it was to be called would go on to become its big ticket story…the one that would make every Indian sit up and watch its coverage. By the next morning when I reached my office everyone was on the story. As a producer in the programming team, stuck in Delhi there was very little I could do. Some of my reporter friends were flying away to Mumbai. The team needed more hands and feet. By then the channel had flung into action, calling all its forces to report to duty. I remember feeling a little disappointed. I have never considered myself an on-field reporter. But at that moment, on that day, I wanted to be one. I wanted to help…somehow. Naïve that I was, I think I was largely swept by my emotions. Looking back at it now, I don’I think no news event has ever affected me more than 26/11.

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A year later, I was still working for the same channel. The editor asked me to move to Mumbai with my team. I picked two of my most able producers, leaving behind another bunch to produce the weekly that we put out every weekend. With a team with 2 producers and a video-editor we landed in Mumbai. We were two weeks away from the weekend before 26/11. Since I was a producer looking at long-format shows, I began counting the days. He gave us 3 shows to produce.

Our first was called I Will Never Forget. I remember meeting 9 year old Devika in her house. She was at CST when Kasab and his accomplice fired bullets are passengers. Devika was shot in the leg. A year later, she had testified against Kasab and in her resilience I saw a face of Mumbai that I had only heard of. The story of the iconic Taj Mahal Hotel and its general manager Mr Karambir Sing Kang was of a special importance to us. He had lost his family in the Taj attack and when I was lining up the interview at the hotel, my friend who worked in the PR team asked me not to ask about his family. We didn’t. The hotel had renovated its singed walls and was opening its heritage wing again for the public. As we heard and recorded the stories of valour and duty, we knew reconstruction was not easy. Farzad and Fahrang, the brothers who own Leopold had not removed the bullets from its walls. A year later, Farzad told us about Peer, his staffer who was felled by bullets. He said, “That man Peer Pasha put in 22 years of his life in this place. How can I let him go? He was the man who every afternoon made tea for me. I would say Peer chai banao even after his death.” Five years later, I doubt he has forgotten him. Swastika, the show director pieced together several narratives. Of witnesses, survivors and people who saw the carnage unfold right before them. We decided to end the show with the story of Vishu’s baby girl who was born on the night of 26/11. She was named Goli. She would be 5 years today.

The story of 26/11 was also the story of bravehearts – The Men Who Fought. The chilling, brick-by-brick account of how the Mumbai police, army, marine commandos and NSG carried out the operation was documented. At a time when television cameras were beaming live visuals of the rescue operations it was believed that Pakistani handlers gave directions by watching news channels. When the siege had ended I remember watching reporters choking with emotions, thanking NSG commandos and all officers in uniform. Arun Jadhav, the lone survivor in the Qualis that had Karkare, Kamat and Salaskar, said to us, “It was a matter of how many seconds more I am going to live. One second. Two second.” A year later as Dency brought back interviews and we pieced the show together, the objective was to relive that same emotion.

Moshe’s Story was a particularly difficult one. Here was a story that we had to knit together without any access to the real child. The cries of that 2 year old wrenched everyone who heard the baby cry. Or the brave stories of Sandra, the child’s nanny or the family’s cook who rescued the child. We had a tough time getting Qazi, the cook to share his story with us. It took a lot of convincing for Abhishek, the show director to get him on board. We recounted the story at Chabbad House with those chilling interceptions betweens terrorists and handlers. As a mother now, Moshe’s loss is still very poignant to me. His aching cries of ‘Ima, Ima’ still send shivers down my spine. The story of a little boy orphaned in a foreign country.

Two weeks was spent in a wink. We spent hours at work, shooting, logging, scripting, editing. We spent days at work. Meals were skipped. We slept in turns in the editing rooms. We went back to the guest house only for a shower. We worked feverishly. It’s all part of the job…but what came of it was a series that remains close to my heart.

Five years later when I look back at the series, I realize that for a journalist – producer, a story or a show comes and goes…what remains is the passion with which she chooses to pursue it. I am not writing this blog to showcase my work (which I have never done on this blog); instead it is to recount a moment in my career where I worked to tell a story like no one else. Anniversaries are not always good. It’s one thing to celebrate a wedding anniversary. But calling a day of death, horror and destruction as an anniversary mars the positivity of the word. Remembrance is a better word. A day can be remembered for its dark memories, for the hurt, for the lessons learnt and the tough battle towards recovery. It is a moment that we must never forget, not on this day…but every day.

Five years later, I still spot errors in the shows I produced back then, but then that’s me… so much so for remembrance and picking up lessons!

No Maid Of Honour

The evolution of man – isn’t it such an oxymoron? You know, that humans have travelled three million years from treetops to civilization, is debatable today. How else will you explain the fact that a 29 year old dental surgeon asks her maid to lick food from her plate and not use her hands? It’s difficult to distinguish between the two women actually. While Jagriti Singh in her sense of reality may believe that her maids are animals, can we please ask her to look into a mirror? Because in the tales of sordid, animal-like treatment meted out to house helps that are emerging all so often now, the animal clearly resides in those who employ these women.

Just for a moment imagine your home without these women. They leave their homes, sometimes separated from their kith and kiln to make your home their own. Or so they imagine. In an ideal world they would like to consider you as family and your home as their home which they laboriously sweep, swab and sparkle every day. They would serve you meals with as much warmth as they would their own family. They would look after your children as if their own. Care for the elderly as if they were their own parents. Except that this idyllic world is just a mirage. At least it was for Rakhi Bhadra, the maid who was discovered dead in Jagriti and husband MP Dhananjay Singh’s home on Diwali day. If her co-worker Meena Sardar is to be believed that then the beastly tales of torture and inhuman treatment are far from over. 35 year Meena Sardar was discovered from with marks of beatings and burn injuries. Left with a broken hip, Meena is receiving treatment at RML Hospital in New Delhi. After they discovered that Rakhi had succumbed to her injuries, and afraid that the cops would find a much battered Meena, Jagriti and Dhanajay Singh had bundled the latter off to a friend’s house.

domestic maid - HinduPhoto Courtesy – The Hindu

India – it is no country for women. If rapes and stories of hostility project a dismal picture of the country’s women folk, it is really no country for the poor either. God save you if you are a poor woman! Or else what explains the barbaric stories of human trafficking and abuse that are emerging of the homes in the city? Incidentally, last week was the birth of the International Domestic Workers Network (IDWN) – a federation of representatives of 42 countries, including India. But India does not recognize its maids and house helps as workers. So even though the term ‘domestic worker’ continues to be abused, India is not a country that recognizes the home as a workplace; neither does it consider house helps as workers because they are usually engaged in personal service.

It’s been three years since the National Council of Women (NCW) drafted the “Domestic Workers Welfare and Social Security Act 2010” Bill highlighting the exploitative nature of domestic work by spurious placement agencies. The draft policy reads – “All domestic workers, employers or service providers shall be registered, within one month of the commencement of the employment of domestic worker, in the household, with the ‘District Domestic Labour Welfare Board.” It also has provisions for registering part-time domestic workers and migrant domestic workers.  Apart from this, it clearly mandates that no child shall be employed as a domestic worker or for any such incidental or ancillary work. The bill is yet to be passed.

There is also the Unorganised Workers’ Social Security Act, 2008. In spirit is covers domestic workers but some critical elements like maternity benefits and disability remain to be effectively put into practice. Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh have welfare boards but the states’ population of domestic workers is unaware of their rights.

5th September marked another historical day. It marked the birth of ILO Convention Concerning Decent Work for Domestic Workers or C189. This groundbreaking new treaty sets to establish the first global standards for the working condition of more than 50 million domestic workers worldwide.  The treaty aims to bring domestic workers at par with other workers, entitling them with weekly offs, minimum wages and vacations. India voted in favour of it but we don’t know if it has begun working on it yet.

Lest we forget…exactly a month ago another startling case of domestic worker abuse emerged. A tribal from a village in Jharkhand was found with an open wound on her head and several wounds on her body. The teenager told the police that her employer left her in a semi-naked state such that she wouldn’t run away. She also said that her employee would attack her with broom and knives. In all the months she was employed, she was never given leave for paid a single month’s salary. The employer in this case was a 40 year old senior employee in French multinational company and lived in Vasant Kunj, New Delhi.

In between the Vasant Kunj incident and the death of Rakhi Bhadra came also the story of a 13 year old girl who was left locked up in her house while her employer, an airhostess went off to Australia. This story was again strikingly similar to the story of another underage maid in the city. In March 2012, a 13 year old girl was rescued from a flat in Dwarka. Her employers, a doctor couple were holidaying in Thailand while they left their maid with no food except flour and salt. The food and ration, they warned, was marked and they installed CCTV in their house and if found stealing, they would beat her up when they returned. The almost starved girl was rescued when neighbours and other domestic workers in the neighbourhood found her crying on the balcony.

A point worthy of note is that all the employers in these stories are well-placed individuals. If education and one’s place in society is anything to define a person, then surely doctors, a well-bred professional and an air hostess are epitomes of good behavior…at least to the public eye. What happens behind closed doors is another story. The bestiality and animal behavior unleashes itself, leaving the defenseless and poor house help at the receiving end.

If Meena Sardar’s narrative is to be believed then this is the nasty end to the squalid state of affairs in our homes. Beaten, stripped, starved and killed…is there really no other end?

In a country divided by class, the feudal notions of the employer and employee in our minds are too rigid. The employer by nature assumes his role as the oppressor and the employee accepts his position as the oppressed. What else can explain maids being made to stand out of restaurants or being made to cramp inside the boot of a Wagon R car? Or drivers who are asked to sleep in the garage? Or maids who have to sleep on the cold floor in winters with a torn blanket? Spare a thought for that woman and in fact all those who make your life simpler. Consider those people who do your chores of you. Consider your rights as a human being and see what they get in turn. It is not enough to treat your own house help with dignity and respect. Not so long ago, we were all gushing about the Tanishq Ad that showed a dusky woman getting married for the second time. We all went singing praises for it. But does anyone remember another ad, the one that claimed to change the air?

The ad showed a maid being appreciated for her culinary skills. Her employer asks her to join the family at the table. She watches on gingerly and sits down apologetically…would you do the same?  Hawa Badlegi?

Long time back when I was doing my postgraduate studies, one of our professors chose to give us some life lessons. We kept the curriculum aside and discussed what it takes to make a career. He told us about passion, determination, ambition and all that matters. But the one thing that struck a chord with me that day is when he said, “Learn to buy time.” We cannot do everything. No matter if you are a man or a woman, there will be thousands of things that you will have to do; sometimes as a professional, at others as a member of the family. And many times you will need someone to fill in for you. These people, who look after our homes and families while we are at work, are the people we buy our time from. Someone is traveling a distance to drive you in your car, so that you don’t have to bother about the traffic and can use the time instead to check your emails. Someone is willing to clean your dishes because you choose to sleep a little late. Or because you want to have an enviable garden, someone comes to your house to prune your bushes. And because you want to have a career, someone else decides to leave her kids behind to raise yours. How are these people different from you? To my professor’s lesson, I would add my own…one that I have lived and learned.

“Learn to respect the person who is selling you his/her time.”

Respect. Don’t we all want that? How is your domestic help any different?

So, have you found a job?

Errr…I am a little fatigued by this question by now! I know, I’ve been ‘jobless’ for nearly a year (since most people consider ML as being a break and that which wasn’t in my case)! There were those well-wishers who pinched their noses for going on a ML in my 8th month…then crossed their brows when I extended my ML until V turned 6 months…and sighed in exasperation when I quit 2 weeks later…and continue to shake their heads since by now I have ‘failed’ to find a flexi-job that suits me and my family…I have very little to present as my defence! What can I say…there’s no respect for a Stay-at-Home-Mother! Blah!

So, just for them…here is a pretty little fact that goes in my favour! Who pays me for this, I wonder!

 

What Is A Stay At Home Mom

p.s: My husband has been the most supportive man I could have found! He has supported me, and my decision, endured my motherly pangs, run the house on a single salary and never cribbed about it…what can I say…he’s not a ‘well-wisher’ for me then! :p