Updated: Apr 20, 2020, 16:13 IST | Fiona Fernandez | Mumbai

With the lockdown being implemented in full force, Bombaywallahs are missing their all-rounder kaamwaali bais as they slip into these domesticated roles, one chore at a time

Mumbai police ensure that the lockdown is followed across the city. Picture/mid-day photographer
Mumbai police ensure that the lockdown is followed across the city. Picture/mid-day photographer

Fiona FernandezAs I begin this column, the day formerly known as Sunday is here, and I am in one of those moods, where I am trying to find sanctuary from memories of chuckle-filled, wine-soaked evenings, or stimulating walks past some of SoBo's architectural masterpieces post sunset. Ah, yes, World Heritage Day came and went on April 18, and those stunning sites and sounds remained unvisited. Perhaps, it's a good thing to allow their facades and interiors to exhale, minus the teeming crowds and accompanying mess that tends to get left behind.

Sure, I do miss those warm moments – all of it seems like these fabulous, enchanting episodes from another time.

Close on the heels of all these treasured flashbacks comes the Big One; and this I am sure, more than half of Bombay will agree with me on. I miss my house help. There – I've said it. If an online poll were to be thrown in right now across social media platforms on the one thing that Bombaywallahs miss the most, I'd hazard a guess that the all-important 'bai' will top the charts, or at least come close to running away with the crown. Come on, let's face it. Despite the "Itna paisa mein itna hi milega" approach that we are all so used to dealing with on a daily basis, we still can't do without them, especially, for such a long stretch.

Many of us, yours truly included, who've been lucky to have the same help for over a decade, will agree that they've evolved as an extension to the family. Their inconsistencies, the falling-outs, the 'upar-se' express cleaning spells, the ditching when you need them the most – all of it now seems feeble because of the sheer magnitude of the situation that all of us, from Katrina Kaif to Kavitaben from Ghatkopar, find ourselves in. From the bartan dhona to the jhaadu-pocha and everything else in between, we've become the bai and working professional rolled into in. And boy, it does pinch ever so often, especially if you're flying solo.

Laxmibai, my woman Friday, called me a few days back. "Didi, ghar mein baitke kantal ho gaya. Life mein kabhi bhi itna din ghar mein nahi baitha," she confessed. A mother of three educated daughters with full-time jobs, and a bedridden husband, Laxmi was pretty much the head of the home, and this long break was killing her busybody self in her one-room settlement. I heard her out, told her to stay safe, indoors, and not venture out except for essentials. She seemed as frustrated as I was at the inevitable scenario we were in.

This ecosystem that exists between Bombaywallahs and their house helps is like an umbilical-cord like connect. And, mind you, I've seen this work with clockwork precision only in our city. Our hectic, working lives are seamlessly woven around theirs, and together, we are able to work with assembly-line accuracy, if you are blessed with one of the species who values your time.

Another factor is the trust that develops with the bai. Out-of-towners are often shocked at the level and extent to which we open our homes to them in Bombay. I recall a visiting aunt from Hyderabad who was appalled at how I could possibly leave the house keys with the bai for her second round of chores at home later in the day when I wasn't going to be around. Explaining to her about this unique bond resulted in me wasting a precious five minutes of my life. Truth be told, when the going gets tough, we'd rather rely on them than some of our closed-in neighbours.

And so, as I tick off another date of the countdown calendar [yes, I have made one of those], I can safely predict that the verdict is a clear one on the house help. Bombaywallahs, in between playing juggler of many skills, are shedding the odd tear in their homes for their beloved bais. And with bated breath, are waiting for their return. Until then, as Laxmi told me while signing off, "Tension nahi lene ka."

mid-day's Features Editor Fiona Fernandez relishes the city's sights, sounds, smells and stones...wherever the ink and the inclination takes her. She tweets @bombayana
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