My latest book is The One Who Swam With The Fishes.

"A mesmerizing account of the well-known story of Matsyagandha ... and her transformation from fisherman’s daughter to Satyavati, Santanu’s royal consort and the Mother/Progenitor of the Kuru clan." - Hindustan Times

"Themes of fate, morality and power overlay a subtle and essential feminism to make this lyrical book a must-read. If this is Madhavan’s first book in the Girls from the Mahabharata series, there is much to look forward to in the months to come." - Open Magazine

"A gleeful dollop of Blytonian magic ... Reddy Madhavan is also able to tackle some fairly sensitive subjects such as identity, the love of and karmic ties with parents, adoption, the first sexual encounter, loneliness, and my favourite, feminist rage." - Scroll

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24 October 2012

And the good news is...

More Tales from Nizamuddin

You guys were awesome and super supportive about my Mr Shawl dilemma, so I thought I'd give you an update. A couple of days ago, I had a meeting with the landlord and my immediate downstairs neighbour--his other tenant. It was decided that I would take my downstairs neighbour's parking spot--the undisputed parking spot--whenever I could, and he would brave the demons, them not being demonic to him, of course. This works out fine, mostly, but since it is an undisputed spot, it's a bit of a free-for-all claiming it and more than once this week, I've returned late at night only to have to park by a public garden two blocks away.

It's a bit scary walking through a neighbourhood at night, through dark alleys, though Nizamuddin is relatively safe, I feel a bit like a daredevil. Anyhow, for the next couple of days the problem is solved for me, because Downstairs Guy has taken his family on an Eid road trip. In the meanwhile, I've gone from chatting to my other neighbours, to a cold nod of my head when I pass them, except Mr Shawl who I meet head on with (what I'm hoping) is a vicious glare. Go, passive aggressive!

Anyway, this means the problem isn't solved, except temporarily,  and I might just get a Vespa and end it all. In the meanwhile, daredevilry is suiting me, because it's great being able to give everyone a big old Fuck You I Don't Need Your Spot And I Don't Need To Be Nice To You and I can wake up in the morning thinking of other things. What's a little dark-alleyway compared to peace of mind, eh? (I'm such a wimp.)

In all this terrible-ness, and the flu, the one shining spot in my household this week has been the arrival of S. S is a professional cook who I found recommended on an expat network, and comes to my house once a day, except for Sundays, and is worth every bit of the relatively high salary I pay her. She's really good--she experiments with food, "would you like roast chicken and mashed potatoes?", yesterday we recreated an Andhra dish neither of us had cooked before just from a recipe off the internet, but she's intuitive with food, knows what tastes good, and now I never want her to leave. She's also young and educated, speaks quite good English, takes the metro every day to her various jobs, and reads recipe books. I've offered her the pick of my library, whatever you want to borrow, I said, and I hope she takes me up on it, even if I have to thrust books at her, it is such a joy to give someone reading.
We complain a lot about how expats drive up prices--rent and domestics and whatnot--but I can't help but think it's a good thing, in cases of girls like S. I've met so many young women working as maids,  I had a couple in Bandra, always a little angry because this was not the life they wanted, they wanted to be like anyone else, to rise above the unfairness of class and economic structure. S. can call the shots, she manages a few households too, not just as a cook but as a housekeeper, and when she came in for the interview, she sat on the couch with poise. She's not traditional or old school, and even though she calls me "ma'am", I see a certain camaraderie between us that doesn't exist between me and the cleaning lady, primarily because the cleaning lady still requires supervision or she just flicks a broom over the floor and calls it a day. That's it. That's the essential difference between the new help and the old ones, the new ones are professional about their jobs and the old ones will slack off if you don't point stuff out to them.

Although, we are swiftly coming to the day where there will be no more domestic help, except for the very rich, as is in all other countries. People might still get someone in once a day to sweep or wash dishes, but no lounging about all day with a full time person at your beck and call, unless a) they're an old family retainer and have no more choices or b) you're giving them adequate compensation to work for you. I am constantly rather shocked by how little people are willing to pay the men and women who make their lives better--you pay them less than what you'd pay on an expensive night out or on holiday or whatever, and why? Because you can? It seems a deliberate way to "keep them in their place" and to ensure the class barriers are never broken, because it is so inherently unIndian to pay someone what you think they're worth. Always with the bargaining and the hardselling.

So, I hear stories on the same expat network about how these maids won't work for Indian families anymore and then there's OUTRAGE, HOW DARE THEY, RACISTS ETC. But it kinda makes sense. Would you go back to a life of being chivvied and bullied after being king of the castle? Would you take a pay cut and BE GRATEFUL for that pay cut because LOOK HOW MUCH I'M PAYING YOU COMPARED TO OTHER PEOPLE and work your ass off regardless because I AM GOING TO GET MY POUND OF FLESH? I wouldn't. But then expats don't stay here forever and there are all these people who have no choice but to give up the lives they almost had and go back to being a domestic servant for the rest of their lives. (Nothing gives me the heebie jeebies more than the word "servant". It's awful. Please never use it.)

Which is where you and I come in. If you can afford a cook, you can afford someone like S. You can pay a little more than you normally would and get stellar service. You can create employment opportunities and you can remember it's a new world, you're getting a raise so why not them? I actually have been smoke free* for close to a month now and the money I'm saving on cigarettes comes to approximately Rs 2,000 a month. This goes into S's salary. Win-win, and a healthier habit.

*except when I'm drinking, which, come ON, I'm only human.


  1. This was a really interesting post. About the whole maid thing:we are lucky to live in Malaysia, where there is an abundance of maids from Cambodia, the Phillipines, and Indonesia. So most households have a maid who stays with you, and they are paid okay(I think). I think one great thing about living in Asian countries is the cheap domestic help:you never have to learn how to do basic household chores if you don't want to.

  2. Yay! See things are looking up.. Didn't I tell u to hang in there. Also congratulations on keeping the no-smoke pact intact ... as for the smoking while drinking,, well you can simply shrug and say Terms & Conditions applied.

  3. Can someone send me S? :)
    Interesting post. I need to read more on your blog.

  4. Very interesting and happy you have found some respite from Mr. Shawl if only temporary.

    I love the idea of having someone like S cook for hubby and me. But that kanjoos won't pay so much! But you enjoy!

  5. I don't hire Indians or Sri Lankans as maids here. I prefer to hire Filipinos or Indonesians, they are more professional. I mean, no one wants to be a house-maid, sure. Everyone is working towards a better way of life. But with Indians, I've seen that, like you mentioned, they act subservient, and resent their position in life and tend to slack off the job. While with the others, they are more professional and DO their job, even while they are friendly and share a laugh with you about not judging you for finding handcuffs in the house :P (which was a joke, btw).

    Good luck to S.

  6. Sounds brilliant.
    In Bandra I had a maid who nobody would dare feel sorry for. She was by far the most empowered woman I had met. She was a cleaning lady but not once did she think that that was a lowly job. Every morning she came in and woke the entire household with her booming voice and long stories :) What I loved was how smartly she had planned her future and her daughter's futures. One of her daughters wants to be an air hostess and the other an architect, and she is prepared to make sure they get to be exactly who they want to be. Once she explained to me how she had been saving, putting in money in community chit funds, just making sure that her daughters never feel let down. I was impressed.

    Oh and she managed to sell me tons of Avon make up (a smart saleswoman and a weak me :P)

  7. This blog has become so boring and housewife-ish! I guess that's the result of not being anonymous...


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