Maid for Manhattan

Sep 25, 2011, 10:09 IST | Lhendup G Bhutia

If finding domestic helps and retaining them is no less than a war, South Mumbai and Bandra have already lost. And the burgeoning expatriate population in the city has some role to play

Twenty-nine year-old Anjali Brown, like many other maids in Mumbai, works in as many households as possible to make ends meet. However, unlike her colleagues, at all the six homes she works for, Brown is on a first name basis with her employers.

I thought I would never work in this line. But then I met these people
(expatriates). Everywhere else
I am just a 'bai', a servant; here I get
respect. A
njali Brown Brown's employers include Brazilian model and
Love Aaj Kal actress Giselli Monteiro. Brown only works for expatriates,
and has sworn not to work with Indian households.
Pic/ Sameer Abedi

When this reporter called Brown for a photo shoot, she hollered out to her employer, Gary, a fashion designer, who was in the shower to help her with directions to his house. Five minutes later, Gary was out and on the phone, asking Brown, "Anjali, what time would you want me to call the photographer?"

Brown lives near Mount Mary Church, and works in homes around Bandra. All her employers are expatriates, and include Brazilian model and Love Aaj Kal actress Giselli Monteiro and well-known French designer Mathieu Gugumus Leguillon, among others. She works for about two hours at each home, earning Rs 4,000 from every employer, with a Sunday for herself.

Brown has sworn off working with Indian families. "I have been working as a maid since I was 15. Earlier, when I worked for Indian families, the pay was always measly, the work, hard, and however hard I tried, they all thought I was a work-shirker," says Brown.

She recalls her experience for an Indian family in Bandra who she worked for for three years. "One day 'Madam' was away. When she returned, someone employed to paint the house told her I had spent the entire day idling away. She chose to believe him, and yelled at me." Brown walked away from the house that day, swearing never to work as a maid.

A few months later, a friend convinced her to work with a French college student, who later took up a job in the city. In all, Brown worked with him for two years, and through him met other expatriates, who then employed her. "I thought I would never work in this line. But then I met these people (expatriates). Everywhere else I am just a 'bai', a servant; here I get respect."

Brown's is not the only case. In fact, as the expatriate population in Mumbai grows, especially in areas like South Mumbai and Bandra, many Indian households are finding it increasingly difficult to find a maid.
According to Satish Agarwal, legal advisor to Dr Manju Maid Services, one of the oldest -- having been established in 1996 -- and largest maid agencies in the city with offices in Dadar and Kandivli, says, "The demand has always been higher than supply (of maids).

But of late, the shortage has become acute especially for Indian households, and one of the chief reasons is that Mumbai now houses a large expatriate population that's willing to pay better salaries and offer pleasant working conditions." The problem is most prominent in South Mumbai and the suburbs of Andheri, Powai and Bandra, where it has become difficult to find domestic helps who are good at their work and able to communicate in English. Most of them work for expatriates living in the area or aspire to work for them.

Flora Robert D'Souza, a 45 year-old domestic help who lives in Jogeshwari and works for a Swiss family in Worli, says, "If we have the opportunity why should we work for families that pay us poorly and give us no respect?" D'Souza works from 9 to 4 pm, gets a Sunday off, and a month's paid leave, when the family returns to Switzerland.

"I started with Rs 5,000 here. But in three years' time, without asking for it, I have got three appraisals (she now earns Rs 8,000), and holidays. In the 20 years that I have been a maid, I haven't come across a single family such as this one."

According to Agarwal, most maids earn around Rs 5,000 from Indian households, while expatriates are willing to pay them  between Rs 8,000 and Rs 10,000 for a 10 am to 6 pm job. Apparently, a year ago, the rates for working in Indian households were lesser by Rs 1,000. "This has happened (raise in salaries) because the cost of commodities has shot up and there are opportunities to earn more money (read working for expatriate houses)," he says.

Thirty-two year old Bhayander resident Lidiya D'Souza, however, is happy when discussing her salary. She works for a couple in Worli, both originally from London. "When I first moved to Mumbai from Mangalore as a 15 year old, I earned Rs 700. The pay rose to Rs 3,000 when I worked for a Muslim household. Now I earn Rs 8,000 for a 9 am to 5 pm shift.  In a month's time, my salary will be raised to Rs 9,000. Imagine that," she says, her eyes lighting up, "I am about to touch the Rs 10,000 slab."

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