Maid in Mumbai

Alas! I never thought I’d join that gang of women who talk about their maids or lack of them. I always found this topic singularly boring and depressing.

Mumbai’s life line is not its railways as the government would like to think, but its army of domestic help, ably led by the BAI or maid. So dependent are the working women of Mumbai on this kind of help that maids are a law unto themselves. This is what I discovered when I was looking for help to take care of my grandchildren. All was well and manageable when the one grandchildren spent his days with me. Things got out of hand when they became two and five weeks later became three! There was no way in which I could dandle two babies on two knees or even change nappies simultaneously. So I had no option but to seek outside help i.e. a baby’s maid.

For those who don’t know, a baby’s maid is different from a regular maid. They come in all shapes, sizes and with different skill sets. Needless to say, their remuneration also varies according to the category they fall in and the hours they have to work.

The regular Bai



The normal bai is a middle aged lady with a tight bun and tighter sari pallu pulled round her waist. In the olden days, she almost always wore a 9 yard sari that made her butt jiggle as she moved around the house but for the past 20 years or so, this species is getting hard to come by as most bais have shifted to wearing a 5 yard sari. The reason for this is because they’d rather wear their madam’s cast offs rather than wear the 9 yard bought specially for them.

The Jhappa

The jhappa bai is the bai of all baby bais because she is trained ( I don’t know by who) but she stays with the baby 24×7. She makes the baby’s food, feeds the baby, massages the baby, bathes the baby, washes the baby’s clothes, tidies the baby’s  cupboard, irons the baby’s clothes, sings songs and puts the baby to sleep, cuddles the baby at night and essentially does everything that mummy would normally do, leaving mummy to do other things like go to kitty parties , watch movies and attend family weddings (which is what most of these mothers do since these ladies are the only ones who can afford their exorbitant salaries).

Of course Jhappa maids have a short lived career because as the baby outgrows his nappies, she is traded in for either a governess or a nanny.

The Governess or Nanny

Mary Poppins

                     Mary Poppins

Mary Poppins is the quintessential English Governess/Nanny and is every mother’s dream. However, she remains fictional even though there are many who aspire to be one.

I was shocked when I found  a retired headmistress of a school actually working as a governess for one of her former students. Everything worked fine till one day the governess forgot that she wasn’t the teacher any more and corrected the child’s obnoxious behaviour. Worse still, she tried to pull rank on Father and hogged the morning newspapers before he woke up. So it wasn’t long before she went back to being retired teacher rather than Governess.

This, however, is more the exception than the norm and Governesses  are normally women who in another era would have been the spinster aunt or widowed granny who moved in with the family to look after the child as a supervisor rather than an actual hands on help. Today’s governesses are women who really have no where to go and are basically looking for a good home to stay. Naturally these are few and far between.

More common is the Nanny who is a girl in her late teens or early 20s who can speak perfect English. She is smart and is often mistaken for the madam of the house because she is so smart and efficient….The Nanny is the type who can accompany you to any restaurant or club, is taken on the family holiday and is often treated to some beauty treatment at a parlor before she accompanies her charge to a birthday party. She also rings up the other children’s mothers to find out what the homework assignment is and can sometimes be the recipient of a slurpy goodbye kiss on the cheek as her charge goes to school. These young nannies work for a bit till they accumulate enough money to marry the Mr. Right they’ve left back home in their villages.

The Qualified Medical Nurse

I’m not joking but among newborn mothers a nurse is de rigueur even for a baby who is perfectly healthy and happy. This dumpy old thing in a white dress and stockings is often trailing behind an entourage of mummy, bai/nanny/maid and driver. She proudly holds the baby aloft and brings him forward for ooohs and aaahs from visitors and relatives. Her claim to fame is the fact that there is a long line of yummy mummies waiting to employ her – she who can maintain a proper register of feeding times, amount eaten, etc etc. She also makes the perfect kathi kabab roll ( aka a swaddled infant) as taught in nursing school. Her life span as a child carer is even more limited than that of a Jhappa but she earns twice as much and has a job lined up even before she sets foot in your nursery.

The Hunt

So when I was in the market for a maid, I was asked the following questions :

  • what kind of maid do you want ? A jhappa? A bai” A Nanny? A governess? A nurse?  ( Obviously I wanted the Bai and none of the others who would have upset my general household )
  • do you want a part time or a live in? ( I realised that the remuneration depended on the hours of work)
  • do you want a tribal? a local? a Bengali? a Nepali? (Nepali maids are at a premium because they don’t look so obviously like maids – In fact there is a strong chance that they look better than the mummies who employ them so one should be judicious while selecting a Nepali maid)
  • what kind of job will I have to do? ( Obviously look after the BABY!)
  • how many days will I get as an off ? Will it be as per your convenience or mine? ( Obviously it has to be as per MY convenience but the politically correct answer is YOURs my dear)
  • who will sleep with the baby? ( Obviously NOT ME , I am tempted  to say, and add you can sleep with the father, but have to smile and say : ME .)

I have been looking for over a month now and interviewed maids of all kinds – thin ones, fat ones, happy ones and sad ones. Women who obviously want a place to stay and others who just want to hang around till they get the next best job.

In the meantime, baby is growing up quite well. I am getting less done in terms of my own stuff. My friends are finding themselves pretty much out of my orbit but I wonder – Is it really worth leaving my grandchildren in the care of some person who really doesn’t care for them at all? 



A granny who always sees the humour in life and tries to do things differently. When others make cupcakes, this granny makes banana fritters. When she’s not busy chasing her grandchildren who love making her run around, she indulges in her passions of reading, writing, meeting friends and watching movies. And somewhere between all this she enjoys travelling and cooking!

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