I’m reading a book called ‘The Help’ about life in Mississippi of 1962. The book jacket says ‘…Where black maids raise white children, but aren’t trusted not to steal the silver…’ That sure struck a (rather guilty) cord – Especially in context to my current situation over the past 3 years as a working mom of a 3 year old.
Nuclear families, the increasing number of working mom’s, increasing cross country pollination, busy self absorbed lifestyles and the traffic situation in Bangalore means a decreasing support system from immediate family – once characteristic of Indian family set up’s. Working couples in India are now increasingly dependent on hiring help to look after their children, cook, clean house…
Although I had never really registered or given much thought to this situation before, when I myself hired help to look after my child, I began to realize the importance and predominance of paid help in our children’s life. Often to the extreme.
In the quest to ‘do more with life’ and live a more fulfilling life, I often see the balance between work / ‘me-time’ and quality home time / time spent with children getting tipped precariously towards the former.
I often see kids tagging along with their maids all day all through the working week and then some – at birthday parties, during weekends, holidays, late at night, early in the morning, being fed in the parks…
While this will have obvious consequences to the way in which our next generation turns out, reading the book also made me think about our attitudes towards our paid help in India. Another excerpt from the book:
Rule # 2: Don’t you ever let that white lady find you sitting on her toilet. I don’t care if you’ve got to go so bad it’s coming out of your hairbraids. If there’s not one out back for the help, you find yourself a time when she’s not there in a bathroom she doesn’t use.
Rule # 3: When you’re cooking white people’s food, you taste it with a different spoon. You put that spoon to your mouth, think nobody’s looking, put it back in the pot, might as well throw it out.
Rule # 4: You use the same cup, same fork, same plate every day. Keep it in a separate cupboard and tell that white woman that’s the one you’ll use from here on out.
Rule # 5: You eat in the kitchen
Rule # 6: You don’t hit on her children. White people like to do their own spanking.
How many of these ‘rules’ are we guilty of imposing on our help? In most houses, several I suspect.
I feel shamed to think that the India of 2010 seems equal in attitude to the Mississippi of 1962… While our attitudes are more progressive than the previous generation, we still have a long way to go in building an equal opportunity society in India.
And the scary part is – Are we willing or even capable of making this change?