Looking in the basket for onions, my eyes fall on a bag of tomatoes left to rot and I quickly rush to suppress the evidence. I tilt the trashcan a little, place the incriminating evidence in the bottom of the can and tilt it back so it is covered. Just to be sure I take an old sheet of paper and cover the contents and hope she won’t notice. My hope is short lived. A few hours later comes the dreaded question:
“you left the whole bag of tomatoes in the basket and forgot about it? Why didn’t you keep it in the fridge? You just buy, let them rot and throw them”
I pretend not to have heard her, all the while seething inside. Why the hell couldn’t she have kept it in the fridge? or told me they were outside? It is almost as if she waited for them to rot so she could score over me.
Sound familiar? Your MIL/ SIL has done that to you or something similar? Ok, not the same thing in this case. It is NOT my MIL or SIL ; it is my maid, my domestic help.
When you have had someone working for you for over 20 years, I suppose some amount of role confusions happen.

Just because I trust her with the house in my absence and tolerate her eccentricities in consideration of her loyalty, she has begun to assume more rights than she is entitled to.
I do not believe in constant supervision and tolerate a little shoddiness once in a way because I understand that her job involves doing chores that we try to avoid the moment we can afford it. Cleaning/ dusting etc. can be fun and cathartic if you don’t have to do them for a living and in someone else’s house. So I don’t make a fuss if I find dust in some places; I just pick up the duster and clean it myself. And some days while I would have happily lived on left over food , I make the effort to cook for her. I do it because she is there working in my house when it is lunch time and I also do it because I feel it is my responsibility to see she gets her nourishment as it is her only meal of the day. No big deal – just a sambar and a vegetable with rice.

I do not know if I have sent the wrong messages to her with my attitude and behaviour. Of late I think she suffers from a delusion that I look upon her as the mother in law I don’t have. While she will implicitly follow orders if it is from the male members of the household, she will always have something to say if I ask her to do something.
“Yellamma, use this polish for the brass things.”
“No ma, this is no good. I will use pitambari powder. And I will do it tomorrow ”
“Why not today?”
“Today is tuesday.”

What has tuesday got to do with polishing a vase? She thinks she is a pundit and I am some vagabond gypsy unlearned in the way things are done. Don’t cut your hair on tuesday, don’t plant something on new moon day, don’t pay money on friday.

“Water those pots in the balcony. they are drying up.”
“Oh they aren’t drying. I water them on alternate days so their roots will get stronger.”
“says who?”
“Oh, I was brought up on a farm and grew up with plants. As if I don’t know.”
(With a sigh I water them myself after she has left for the day.)

“Can you give a bath to Munni?” (Munni is my 1 year old hyper-active dog)
“No, She might catch a cold if I give her a bath in this weather. May be tomorrow if there is bright sunshine.”
“Ok, can you get her brush?”
“How do I know where you have kept her brush. You keep it all over the place and forget.”

And this is when I snap and tell her “ So that is why I pay you. Please go and find it.”

She is stunned. This is not how the game is supposed to go. She knows that she has crossed a line and the game is over. It is back to the employer/ employee relationship. At least for the moment.
Next day, I start boiling milk. Something distracts me – a phone call or door bell and then I forget the milk and go sit with a book or wander elsewhere. In a few minutes I smell burnt milk and come back to the kitchen. Only to hear her mutter:
“You do this every time . I rushed when I heard the milk rise up but it had already boiled over on to the stove.”
Sigh. Mummy returns!

I know I have to lay down the rules. I have to dispel her delusions rather than play along. My husband sometimes says that I am in an abusive relationship with her and feel helpless to get out. But she is old and she may be unhappy in another house where she will be treated like a domestic help. People tell me how lucky I am to have someone as loyal as this. 23 years, they say they don’t find people to stick around for that many weeks. And they see that I leave my jewels all over the place and they remain there untouched. And if my son has chicken pox or jaundice, she prays to the village goddess as a proxy for her employer who doesn’t “know” any of these things. When I grumble about her impertinent ways to my aunt, she tells me that I do not know how lucky I am. She should know because she has had three maids in the past three months.

So ok. I decided to cut her some slack and exercise some patience for the sake of all the pluses she supposedly brings to the job. But last week she stayed back one night when I was alone and sick. And I realised a scary truth about her. She watches the Saas-Bahu serials in Tamil and Kannada with total involvement and she has a television in her house with cable connection. And here I am , totally ill-equipped to audition for a daughter in law’s role, never having lived with a mother-in-law.
The choice before me is clear – fire her forthwith or pick up some DIL offensives and counter manoeuvres by watching them myself. Since I have been counselled against the former, I think, just to get my revenge, I will watch a couple of them over the week end and launch a pre-emptive strike on monday.
Can’t wait to see her expression. Bwahahaha.*

P.S.: As the tranquiliser was taking effect, I heard a distant voice say: “she seems to be under severe stress. Will be alright when she wakes up.”
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27 Responses
  1. Indeed you are lucky to have a maid for so long. My granda had such luxury. My mother had a special liking to her, since she had helped out during her pregnancy/ recovery period.
    But the authority that your maid assumes over you is not really fair. As much as you appreciate her pluses, I think you should make her understand the pluses you have as well.

  2. Deeps Says:

    Hehehe :)). Really enjoyed the post. Looks like you love her, no matter what you say ;-).

  3. V Says:

    Reminds me of Angamma and my mother. My mother used to call Angamma her MIL.Growing up, me and my brother used to team up and run to my mother complaining about Angamma.And my mother will say,"let her do as she wishes". Angamma dictated what we watched in TV, what flowers and fruits we can pick from our garden and everything else you told about.
    A good post

  4. Dhanya Says:

    A nice post. Even my maid is with me for 8 years (ever since I came to b'lore) and is with my landlord for over 20 years.. Same loyal type but luckily not a MIL to me as we have language barriers :)

  5. dipali Says:

    Such a fine line one treads between being the kind of employer one would like to be, and a complete pushover!
    I guess I'd also end up being the DIL in the equation! We move around the country fairly often, so such a scenario hasn't had a chance to evolve. Though my maid at our last place was in tears when we left.

    All the best with your new strategy:)

  6. Altoid Says:

    Hehehehe. Its not as bad as what my mother does. Regularly she will order the servant to stop. Only too gladly she will walk out and within the next few hours(sometimes Amma manages to sustain for 24 hrs) and then gently asks me or Seren or both to go fall at her feet and get her back. I dont know, this must be some kind of thrill.

  7. Serendipity Says:

    :P Maybe she doesn't have daughters? And you're the daughter she never had!LOL@the milk burning part!My Mom leaves the milk on the stove and catches the bus to her school..:D

  8. Anonymous Says:

    this is a hurtful subject for luckless me. having had my soul ravaged, my emotions hurt, my self bullied and my stuff broken and damaged at regular intervals, i've realised that it's my lot to suffer in the hands of the underprivileged.
    and i bow before anyone who maintains a domestic help for 20 years.

  9. Parul Says:

    Hi Usha,

    I had done a similar post about my maid Padma sometime back....don't know if you got to read it...but it really is strikingly similar.

    Here is the link

  10. Anonymous Says:

    What a lovely read on a holiday morning!
    I have the perfect solution for this.
    Which is...
    Which is...
    Which is...
    (oh, I have an emergency call I must take now. Bye!)

  11. Pri Says:

    23 years??? u indeed are lucky...atleast she dosent threaten u that she'll leave...
    the house help at our place has a whole demand list--u know the 'no that' kinds..and she threatens to leave at the drop of a hat...esp when mom is not around at home..and then she has a huge complaint list about me wch she neatly rattles off once my mom comes back :-/
    "kahani ghar ghar ki" is it? :(

  12. Nice one!!,the truth of the matter is sometimes people take you for granted and you would need to shake them up a little bit.As you have experienced there is a thin line between showing concern and cribbing and giving excuses .

  13. Unknown Says:

    Don't worry - I also have the same situation.

  14. Choxbox Says:

    23 years?! WOW.

  15. 23 years! And here, I've been searching for one that would last at least a month!She's an uncut gem, Oosah! Just needs a little polishing off the rough MIL like edges. :-)by the DIL.
    I wish the dear DIL all the best at coming out with the upper hand, but Saas Bahu serials.???? shudder!Isn't that rather harsh medecine?
    Wouldn't you rather be a smart DIL? than a dumb bimbette?

  16. enjoyd reading it
    my 2 bits- keep her
    good maids r hard to find

  17. my mum-in-law has similar stories to tell about her maid...she bosses around all the time as she's been workking for some 20yrs. For me I've a new maid who is very caring she does odd jobs for me and I share my breakfast with her!

  18. Anonymous Says:

    Nicely written, Usha! :) If I were you, I would have probably let her go. I am probably the only one saying this, also because I don't like to be treated in that certain way. But then, I am not in your shoes and I really don't know what it is to have a maid for that long.

  19. I KNOW the feeling, pretty much the relationship i had with my earlier maid, Masoom. Except i had her for a year and not 20. Maybe her controlling and telling you off is her way of 1. trying to cover up for the goof ups she does and 2. ensuring that you are forever reminded that you need to be grateful. My breaking point with masoom came when she rearranged MY kitchen to suit her style. Boss, i lost it. May i make a suggestion: it neither involves firing nor those horrendous serials. This is power play and she is the bully. When she leaves something undone, DONT rant about it but make her re-do it or clean it properly. this may sound sick but my grandma told me long back, "There are people who will take leniency as kindness, but house maids will always take you being lenient as you being a nincumpoop and someone they can lord over." She cant lord over. Best of luck!

  20. Unknown Says:

    hey nice blog and nice post i really appreciate it
    with regards
    edgar dantas

  21. Usha Says:

    Ca: YOu are right. She has begun to take me for granted. perhaps she thinks that I put up with her because I am desperate to keep her?

    Deeps: is just that she has been around for so long I guess...

    V:hahahha...angamma sounds like yellamma's twin.

    Dhanya:LANGUAGE BARRIERS? this one can speak tamil, telugu, kannada and Hindi ( the shivajinagar version that passes for Hindi)She even understands simple english. I guess I have to convert to malayalam.

    Dipali:New strategy. I bet I'd fail miserably there too. When she opens her mouth I may become tongue tied.

    Altoid: Poor PPP. here she has categorically told me that she won't leave until she has seen my grandchild and helped me bring her/ him up. *hands on the head*

    Seren: She has three daughters. She has no daughters-in-law.
    Oh I leave the milk to boil over every single day. Comeon, cut PPP some slack will ya? Both the daughters keep making fun of her. I have to make a quick trip one of these days so she can tell me her side of the story and about her daughters.

    Maami:Poor you! Will a hug help?
    (I seem to need it more than you.) :)

    parul: OH you know EXACTLY what I am talking about. But it seems that she is a boon with ADI.

    Doc:Than you kindly sir!
    Ha...and I thought you could fix every hurt. I am disillusioned with the world now.

    Pri:Poor you. This one never threatens to leave. perhaps she knows secretly that I will gladly let her go.

    Stalag: I guess I am a little to relaxed with her and I don't pull her up for her lapses so much so she has come to assume that she is PERFECT.

    Eve: My sistaaaaaaaah. *HUGS*

    Chox:yes 23 years. SIGH...

    JLT: I know, I know. i think I will let my bahu handle her. what say? Good idea!!!

    ITW: SIGH... I will.

    Antara: I am glad you found a good one. I am told they don't make them like that anymore.

    Chitra: She has told me she WON"T leave me. The only way is to suffer.

    JB:I think I will so she doesn't have the time to be on my case!

    Edgar: Thans.

  22. diya Says:

    Having lived with the mom in law for 10years I know that they are far worse than what your poor maid can do! So keep her but remind her of your true position from time to time!It was enjoyable reading the post, I love your sense of humour.

  23. Mahadevan Says:

    Familiarity breeds contempt. Having worked with you loyally for 23 years, she has taken a bit of liberty. In the absence of other senior female members, she has assumed the role of a mother-in -law, disagreeing with everything emanting from the daughter-in-law.

    If you reminder her that her role is only that of a servant, she may obey without murmur, but you would strike a discordant note in the 23 years relatinship.

  24. Usha Says:

    Diya: Oh if i gave her the liberty, I am sure my maid can do worse things too...hehe

    Mahadevan : ya that is why I hesitate. Poor lady is forced to do physical work when she ought to be resting.I see it is because of her poverty and I count my blessings in comparison and hence try to compensate by being nice. And this is what I get in return. :)

  25. Mama - Mia Says:

    hehe!! :)

    i can identify with this now that i have rajamma taking care of Kabir. she spends more time with him than i do now that i am back to work!

    she also scolds us often saying you dont give him medicines on time, least you can tell me and i would do it refularly! she tell us what he should eat now! we get scolded if he wakes up because we made some noise! oh its endless!

    but she loves kabir like her own grandson! :) and thats makes up for evrything else!

    even though there are days i feel like quitting rather than face her barbs or even worse shoddy work!!

    but dearest husband calms me (??) saying "kabir ko dossri maa mil jaayegi, par rajamma nahi milegi!"

  26. WhatsInAName Says:

    Same story again. Not 23 years yet, but my maid has been with me for almost 5 years now and I get scolded every now and then for not dusting and not taking care of my kids :) I laugh it off at times but sometimes she gets it back nicely too. The good thing is that she doesnt take anything to heart and back to her usual self the next day :(

  27. Unknown Says:

    was laughing out loud as I read this, just 2 days ago, when I asked my house help to clean the drawer that holds all the stirring, sauteeing and frying implements (steel, wooden, brass, silicon etc etc) she asked me why do you have so many of these...why don't you put them away ? To which I laughed and asked her if she was my mother in law, she is barely 20 and so she found it very funny indeed :)
    SO maids no matter what age like to think that they are our MIL :)