How different would the world have been today, if housework hadn’t been womankind’s cross to bear alone through the ages?
For a borderline obsessive-compulsive like me, spring-cleaning can never be confined to a day-long exercise. It usually spans at least a week. This year, given that my maid has been MIA for over a month and a half, and that I myself had been intermittently travelling the last six, I knew the whole affair would be more long drawn. There was only so much I could attempt with my sordid chest congestion, and my maid showed no signs of returning, despite repeated promises. I had to accept the cold fact. I needed help.
The Nepali Mary Poppins I usually entrust with such handiwork was too overwrought on account of her kids’ final exams. She couldn’t make it. I ran out of options. Then, something freakishly synchronistic transpired. The goddesses of cyberspace divined the urgency of my need. I saw an ad on my Facebook newsfeed for an app/website dedicated exclusively to providing you with a cleaner on demand at R149 per hour. My upstairs neighbour and I decided to try it out. I scheduled a cleaner to come over last Saturday at 10:15 am.
I woke up to a call from a man named Rohit. I assumed it was in connection to my request.
“Who will you be sending?” I asked?
“I will be coming, Madam,” he said in Hindi.
I was a bit stumped. I wasn’t honestly prepared for a male cleaner.
“What all will you do?” I asked, trying to gauge his level of expertise. (It’s no secret men are not the best at housework; a vast majority are brought up learning never to lift a finger, presumably as a lifelong reward for having being born with the right genitalia.)
“Whatever you ask me to do!” he said.
Clearly, I’d booked myself a genie.
He showed up on the dot at 10:15 am, opened up his large satchel full of cleaning equipment and implements and clocked himself in.
The next seven hours were oddly satiating. I never imagined I could derive a certain, almost perverse, pleasure from watching a man perform housework. Rohit’s hands were very unpracticed, his pace unsparingly slow.
But he went to town scrubbing every soiled surface in sight, from the sides of my yellow toaster to the glass lid of my OTG to the grime camouflaged underneath the refrigerator. When I decided to call it a day, he clocked out and handed me a feedback form. I rated him well and was inclined to ask for him the next day. Considering there was no electricity for five hours, the storeroom — the site of all disarray — was too dark to clean. But because my sister and I are smart and economical women, I sent her a referral code and she booked our helper for Sunday, who turned out to be Shivalal, the antithesis of Rohit — matter-of-fact, brisk, practiced, and all together efficient. What would have taken Rohit three hours to do he did in one. The storeroom is still gleaming from his handiwork.
Yesterday, as the painters my landlady had hired to treat musty patches were finishing up, I found myself slightly panic-stricken as to how I’d manage clearing up after them while also cooking a meaningful dinner. I was obliged to entertain on behalf of a friend, and I had my menu planned but was so short on time. So I impulsively booked a helper online. Ravi came half an hour ahead of schedule and was an absolute dream. He made it clear that I should just sit back and occupy myself while he catered to my every housekeeping need.
When I raved about the service to a friend, I asked her if it was possible that these trained men were better at housework than the run-of-the-mill maids we usually employ. She agreed, but offered a fairly rational explanation; for most men, household chores are not a daily affair, there’s thus a division in terms of the site of residence and the site of labour. Most maids literally have to repeat the same jobs done at home at every other house where they are employed. It’s hard to achieve proficiency when there is no such separation between what you do at home and what you are expected to do at work.
For a moment, I actually craved a world where this current scenario of a man being paid to do my housework was de rigeur, because it afforded me the luxury of concentrating on all my other assignments. I wondered how many women had sacrificed their biggest dreams and ambitions at the altar of domesticity. I wondered what the world would look like if somehow this cross could be taken away from us?
Deliberating on the life and times of Everywoman, Rosalyn D’Mello is a reputed art critic and the author of A Handbook For My Lover. She tweets @RosaParx Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org