Lifestyle

The Unpaid Domestic Help

It’s been sometime. I know. I was caught up in the act of managing my day-to-day life, and spent the rest of my time wanting to lose weight in front of the TV.

Both my parents were working – both of them bank employees – and ours was a typical upper middle class household. We had live-in household helps most of the time to handle the housekeeping – the cleaning, washing, and other related tasks. My mother handled the cooking herself. My father took care of all the “external tasks” like shopping groceries, maintaining the house and the small back garden. I still remember on Sundays which was the only holiday they had – our house would be a bustle of activity – Achan would be washing his shirts and our uniforms – there was no washing machine and he didn’t trust the household helps to do it to his level of perfection. And then after his afternoon siesta, he would iron his shirts, our uniforms and Amma’s blouses for the next week. When we were big enough, he taught me and my brother how to iron the clothes to perfection, which was a torture for us at that time.

On working days, he left our home at 6.15 in the morning to catch a train to his work place and was back only at 8.15 pm. So my brother and I had very limited interactions with him which we didn’t mind at all. He was a very strict disciplinarian and we were scared of him. So the point I am trying to make here is, in spite of travelling for around 4 hours a day to and from from work and having only a day for himself, he was never averse to giving his hand in household chores. This, in spite of having been brought up in an extremely patriarchal household by a mother who considered men as Gods walking on earth.

He didn’t allow me to make even a coffee by myself when he was at home – he was scared to let me use the gas stove. I was allowed to use it only when I was in College – may be 17 or 18. When my mother was away or unwell, he cooked. At the time, I never gave much credit to him and never thought he was a good husband and father. On the contrary, I considered him strict, old fashioned and unnecessarily mean with us. He had his drawbacks, I won’t deny that, but when I think back to those times now, I realize he sowed the seeds of gender equality in my mind.

No household task was too beneath him and he taught both me and my brother the same. I cannot recall him implying to my mother that he is doing so many things to “help her” and we were never asked to “help them” either. You were expected to do certain chores in the household and it was part of your life. All of us contributed to the smooth running of the household. When there was no maid, I was expected to clean the house and wash cloths and dishes.

Cut to the present, my household -I am asked if I “need any help”. It is my responsibility to make sure my family has meals on the table on time. I am responsible for my daughter going to school on time, her school activities, her extra curricular activities. My weekends are busier than weekdays, I clean, I cook, I shop , and I ask myself the same question Lady Grantham asked in Downton Abbey. “What IS a weekend?”

All this is in addition to holding a full time job. The job is irrelevant. I do not want any special favours on account of me being a working woman. The point is, this family is not just my responsibility. I shouldn’t have to ask for the bathroom, toilet and sink to be cleaned, vaccuming the house weekly or whenever it is dirty is not just my job. Putting the clothes in the washing machine, washing the dishes, taking care of our kid is as much my responsibility as yours.

I am deprived of the chance to do things I like to do because of the things I am obliged to do.

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