It is an ongoing tussle between my domestic help Saroja and me.
I have told her to inform me if she is going to take a day off, so I am prepared mentally and somehow find the physical drive to do her chores. I never mind her taking the day off, (with her however it is invariably five days running) since she too has problems and may fall ill. It is just that she should let me know first thing in the morning.
She always says yes, but from the time of the landline and 25 paise per call from the public phone booth to now the days of the cell - she also has one - she never does. Giving her the telephone money to make calls never worked – she probably found a better use for it. Threats of cutting off the day’s wages never work either, she knows I won’t.
So there I remain, waiting till 8 am, and then going to our first floor balcony to check if she has cleaned the front gate and drawn the kolam – at which she is a champ. And if I see her kolam there or in our neigbour’s house, I relax and continue with my work in my office - kitchen, that is.
But if she doesn’t then I have to start doing the vessels, clothes et al. And I do so with great energy and scolding her mentally for not calling early to let me know. Sometimes I have to fit the chores in to the schedule the days’ programme, like visits to the doctor, cooking for visitors and so on. My scoldings are no less vigorous than my hands as I scrub the vessels. And I tell myself, “Just wait till she comes, I’ll give her a piece of my mind for not calling me.”
On the second day, I am a little more prepared, for I have done the dishes the previous night, thinking if she comes she can do the rest of the work. No call, and she isn’t coming either. The clothes are scrubbed a little less vehemently, though the scoldings continue.
The third day I begin to wonder, while doing the floor, if the poor woman is very ill and can’t come to the phone, but then I tell myself, why can’t she ask someone else in the family to call. Her useless son is always hanging around outside our gate when she is working, instead of going about his job. Why can’t he come and tell me why his mother is absent, I grumble. High time I looked for another maid, I feel.
The fourth day comes but she doesn’t, and now I am weary with the chores, mine and hers, and begin to feel sorry for her, working here and in other homes, just doing the same tiresome chores to make enough money for her livelihood.
By the fifth day I am ready to fall on her neck and welcome her back.
No reprimands, no recriminations…..