I was traveling in a lift the other day in a building known for having more servants than residents. This is not very uncommon in Mumbai . There are some families I know who have a maid/boy to look after each child, a cook who is either resident or visiting, a laundryman or dhobi who comes in to iron the clothes, a driver or chauffeur and sometimes even a general dogsbody or gentleman’s valet. In addition there is also the cleaning lady who may or may not do the bathrooms in which case one has to employ a jamadar or janitor. The number of servants not only depend on the size of the household and the jobs to be done, but also reflect the family‘s social status. For instance, a rich and famous family would not only employ a general overseer or housekeeper who will also double up as an accountant and keep the family’s books, maintain the inventory and do the overall shopping for provisions and household items. The really super duper rich also employ a secretary who comes in for the day while some families employ a telephone operator who also keeps track of the mail and courier parcels that are delivered to the house. Families with little children often employ an ayah or children’s maid but now the trend is to employ a regular, trained nurse especially for the newborn. And of course, the really rich employ a nanny or even a governess.
If you multiply this complement of household staff by the number of flats in a building – it does work out to more than double the residents!
This is in addition to the other people who offer their services to the residents of the building which include car cleaners, beauticians who give pedicures, manicures, haircuts in the comfort of one’s home and are constantly in and out at all times of day! Since most buildings are either in need of repair or undergoing some kind of refurbishment, almost every building is crawling with an electrician, a plumber, a carpenter or painter these workmen. In our building once, every flat was undergoing some kind of renovation as every new resident re-organises the walls and living space according to either his personal preference or the advise of his vastu/ feng shui consultant before moving in with his movable personal effects.
The building societies themselves have staff as security guards, lift men ( those who operate the lifts), an electrician, a plumber, gardeners, office boys , pump men or water men – who monitor the water pumps and water supply and sweepers who keep the building clean.
So what does this have to do with my relatives?
While I’m all for respecting those who serve or help us and treating them with courtesy, I was taken aback when one of the ayahs in the lift told her young charge who was bawling his head off, to look at what didi was doing and pointed at me in an effort to distract him from his original intention of bursting her ear drums. I glanced quickly at the mirror in the dimly lit lift and realised that with my wisps of hair escaping from my rubber band, well worn T and un-polished nails I needed to change my look lest I be mistaken for another maid.
There was a time when maids wore cast offs by their employers or were given a “uniform”. However, today, to overcome the ” right of admission reserved” rule applicable in most establishments, maids are not only dressed in jeans and T’s but are also sent to beauty parlors to get their hair, nails and eyebrows done thereby making it hard to differentiate between master and servant.
This only means that shabby chic won’t really work unless you want to be mistaken for the household help!