I've had household help for six months. I'm going to need mental help for six years
I live alone now, in a house. This means I am now in permanent charge of making a few hundred square-feet of the universe not burn-down, explode, collapse, or breed Ebola. I have responsibilities; I need to make sure bills are paid, I need to know when the garbagemen come, and I need to figure out why neighing sounds come out of my neighbour’s window at 3 am. Like any self-respecting single man, I will probably destroy everything in a six kilometre radius while trying to stay on top of things, if left to my own devices. So, like everyone else, I hired help.
One is a cleaner, the other is a cook. They’re both really sweet ladies, and they have a lot in common. They both get sick a lot, mostly on weekends. 1 is their favourite number, because it’s the one on the calendar that means ‘payday’. And they both have very large families. My cleaner alone has six grandmothers and twelve grandfathers. Heck, seven of them died this year, two within 48 hours of each other on Janmashtmi weekend. But still, it’s a pretty simple system. I pay them both good money, and in exchange, they cook, they clean, and they intensely hate each other.
When you first get household help, you’re taught the first rule of household help club; no household help may be allowed to like any other household help. The last time I saw two people meet and fall in hate so quickly, Rahul Mahajan was getting married on TV. Their hatred for each other is more bizarre because their jobs only require them to be in the same room for one hour every day. For sixty minutes every day, the cook cooks and the cleaner does the dishes. I’m not sure what point in that process is so complicated and stressful that it led to a two-hour brawl that ended in one of them saying “Sir yeh chudail peeche se g** khaati hai.”
I’ve learnt since that most fights between the household helps happen for one of three reasons:
1) One of them does too much work and thus threatens the other one, who is afraid she’ll get fired and replaced entirely by the first one.
2) Neither of the two does any work.
3 One tells the other how to do the work.
Reason number three is the most terrifying. Because one thing that pisses a woman off more than being told what to do by a guy, is being told what to do by another woman. And the only thing that pisses a woman off even more than that is when she’s told this in front of a man. The brawl they had this week began when the cleaner told the cook to use a spoon, and not her wet hands to take out aata.
When she heard this, a look passed over my cook’s face. It was a look that said “There was only one woman in the world who could tell me what to do, and I know for a fact that you’re not my mother-in-law, because four years ago, I killed her myself, so how dare you.” She countered this attack by throwing a tantrum about not being able to work in conditions like this, and about how her pride had been bruised by this affront. This was impressive only because it was the first time I have ever seen her exhibit any sort of chef-like behaviour. On most days she just stands around overcooking things in one of two flavours; tasteless, or Flamethrower Filled With The Burning Souls of Sex-Offenders.
My cleaner responded with a salvo about how the cook was a liar, a cheater, and a back-biting she-devil who she would never speak to again. I will never ever do any work with her or help her in any way, she swore. And if she talks to me, she said rather unnecessarily, I will slap her. I wanted to say something, but she was holding a knife, and takes the Ladies Special local every day. So instead, I gave them duties that will now keep them separated, and wandered back into my living room, massaging my head as I sat down on the couch and wondered where I’d heard this relentless juvenile squabbling before. And then my hand hit the remote and MTV came on, and I just knew.
Rohan Joshi is a writer and stand-up comedian who likes reading, films and people who do not use the SMS lingo. You can also contact him on www.facebook.com/therohanjoshi