Behind every successful woman, there is a maid.
Mother did everything. Washing, cleaning, cooking, helping us with our homework, walking us to the school… Everything. When her strength and joie de vivre were stolen by Clinical Depression and Diabetes, when we all joined work, we had to hire a domestic help. Mother’s mood reflected the helper’s. If she performed well, Mother would be happy. If she didn’t turn up for work or if her work was sub-standard, Mother would hold it against the family. Sometimes — I know it’s absolutely irrational and absurd to consider this insecurity — I thought that Mother loved the domestic maid more than she loved us, only because the weight of the workload was so massive that she couldn’t envisage a life without somebody to help her. We could empathise. However, we were guilty for not cleaning up after ourselves.
Anu’s problem in Payal Kapadia’s Maidless in Mumbai is real. She is a political journalist on the verge of exposing an earth-shattering scandal. She is also a young mother who is made to extend her maternity leave months after months because her maids never stay. Her mother and mother-in-law fill her with advice, instead of actually helping her, and her husband Sameer is so mired in work that Anu is on a Sisyphean hunt for maids.
Did I claw my way up the career ladder only to fall off the maternal footstool?
Will Anu go back to work? Will Sameer see Anu’s struggles? Will the mothers get down to work? Payal Kapadia shares Anu’s diary to offer answers to these questions.
Anu’s voice is sometimes light, sometimes self-deprecating, sometimes determined, sometimes annoying, particularly when she tastes no success in retaining her employees. Kapadia’s writing is hilarious and marginally cringe-worthy or offensive at times. For instance, her Anu’s friends seem stereotypical. So is her neighbour from Singapore. I would have liked the book more without their mindlessness. Their conversations were not exactly funny. Perhaps humour comes with that price.
Beneath the humour, Payal Kapadia explores some burning themes — motherhood, relationships, gender-equality, work-ethics, parenting, and friendship. There is even a lovely touch on the importance of ‘letting go’. Maidless in Mumbai could have assumed a serious tone, but the book doesn’t want to go that further. While that choice is obvious, it doesn’t make the work any less significant or entertaining.
Somewhere while reading Anu’s diary entries, I kept asking myself, “How did Amma go to work, manage chores, run the family? All in a day’s work. How? And why is it not possible for Anu?” But the answer seems elusive on so many levels. If I try harder to answer, I can come up with an easy, “Oh! The times have changed.” Or a truer one like, “Maybe, we aren’t really trying.” I don’t know.
But who am I to pass such verdicts when I complain about my four-legged furry-friend Anu Boo’s defiant refusal to take a quick dump! 🙂