Unlike our army counterparts who get ‘sahayaks‘ or flunkies to do their chores, the navy officers and ladies have to do everything at home on their own.
When I was undergoing my staff duties course the DSSC (Defence Services Staff College) in Wellington (Nilgiris) I was already of the rank of Commander (equivalent to Lt Col in the army and Wg Cdr in the air force). My wife and I unpacked and set up our house whereas our neighbouring army officers had men doing such jobs. On being posted out, we started packing two weeks in advance, whereas the army officers did the entire thing in two days with a battery of men attending to it. This contrast was also there when we invited people at home; we served on our own whereas they had their flunkies to do it.
I am tempted to relate this incident to you so as to further clear the air. Even our army counterparts are surprised that we don’t have “free” servants. And since we live in metropolitan cities, even the hired help in the form of maid servants is hard to obtain.
As a Cdr in the Navy I stayed opposite a Brigadier in SP Marg flats in New Delhi. One day, we were getting ready to go to an official party when there was a ring at the door. It was the lady next door, the Brigadier’s wife. Unfortunately my wife had opened the door whilst polishing my evening rig’s black shoes. The lady told my wife, “Look at the way the naval officers treat their wives; I mean, it is inhuman to make you polish his shoes. Call him, I will teach him some sense.”
All this was in mock anger because they had become good friends with us and knew our reality.
My wife’s reply, however, took the wind out of her mock anger, “Sorry, he can’t come now since he is ironing my saree.”
When our elder son was born in 1984, our need for a maid servant became the name of famous pictures in Hollywood: paramount. We had to get one since it was now becoming difficult for Lyn to manage especially when I went out sailing.
Our efforts to find one appeared to us more than our combined efforts in producing a son. We appeared to have everything: ‘A’ type accommodation in Meena building in NOFRA (Naval Officers Flats Residential Area) after 22 months of station seniority; a servant quarter and large hearts.
Finally, after weeks of waiting, one maid servant came to interview us on a sunday. Our interview, in which we eventually failed, went like this:
Maid: Kitne log hain? (Possibly she had learnt this from Gabbar Singh in the movie ‘Sholay’) (How many of you are here?)
We: Do aur ek chhota bachcha. (Only two and an infant)
Maid: Theek hai. Guest kitana aata hai? (Good, how many guests you get?)
We assured her that we hardly get guests.
Maid: Annual leave poora lenge ke nahin? (Will you go on your full annual leave (60 days) or not?)
I told her that earlier we weren’t so particular but now, since my father died recently, I would be taking full leave to go to my home place to look after my widowed mother.
This was very satisfactory to our potential maid and I winked to my wife that so far we had done good.
We didn’t know what was to come. Somewhat similar of those who sleep in their homes oblivious of the fact that Tsunami is just around the corner from them.
Maid: TV hai naa? Mujhe Chitrahaar aur Sunday movie ka shauk hai. (I hope you have a television since I like watching the popular show Chitrahaar)
We had recently acquired a Dyanora Black and White portable TV, the only one I could afford. I proudly pointed towards our possession. The potential maid had one look at it and said, “Ye to chhota hai aur Black and White hai.” (This is small and black and white)
I have seen many of these court cases in the movies wherein the prosecution, through relentless cross-examination, makes the accused accept his guilt. At this juncture, the accused just hangs his head in shame. A similar thing happened to my wife and I. We hung our heads in shame with the evidence of our poverty.
In the night, my wife whispered to me just before saying good night: “At least buy me a new Jhadoo”. (Broom)
“Don’t take this to heart”, I told her, “Marriages…..and maids are made in heaven and eventually we would get the maid God had made for us.”
And we did.
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