Citizen Profile – The House Maid's Story
Living a tough life but on her terms.
[Text and picture by Manika Dhama; she manages the blogsite Myriad Musings and More]
Ms. Bala Devi is a 34-year-old housemaid who works at three houses in NOIDA, Uttar Pradesh. One is a bungalow while the others are apartments belonging to reasonably wealthy families. Her husband, Dalveer Singh, who was an alcoholic, died few years ago. (She can’t remember the exact year). She has two sons. Rinku is 16, while Minku is 4 years younger. However, both are called Ankur at school. Rinku lives with his grandparents in their ancestral village Patrampur, near Bulandshehar. Minku, lives with her in Hoshiarpur, a village At NOIDA outskirts.
Ms. Devi’s day begins with preparing her son Minku for school. He attends Adarsh Public School, a private school in Sector-51, NOIDA. She pays Rs 600 as the monthly tuition fee. Though a Government School would have had lower fees, she does not think that would have offered her son the kind of opportunities that a private school does. One of Ms. Devi’s major concerns is that her son should learn to speak in English. Though she never went to school herself and therefore cannot help him with studies, she makes sure Minku does his homework and is sincere with his attendance at school. Sometimes one of her employers, who is a homemaker, assists her son in his studies and in another household, her employer’s daughter has been giving her Rs 500 per month, to help finance Minku’s education.
Ms. Devi currently lives on rent (Rs 700 per month) in a one-bedroom house in the village. There are frequent power failures and the water supply is erratic. The villagers have installed a hand-pump so that they can get water whenever required. Before she ventures out to work, she has to finish daily chores like making food, cleaning utensils, washing clothes and helping her son get ready for the school.
Her employers are cordial to her. However, on some occasions she has been screamed at for not completing a certain task or not doing it the way they wanted her to. Sometimes she gets tied up at home and can’t reach the employer’s house on time. This can set them off and though she tries to argue her case, they aren’t always ready to understand. But that doesn’t bother her much.
Ms. Devi knows it is important for her to continue working, for the sake of her sons. The tuition fee at Minku’s school increases by Rs 100 every year with every new class he attends, and so does the house rent. That strains her limited finances. She makes approximately Rs 2000 each month. “Expenses are increasing every year but my salary isn’t. What can I do? Two of my employers are shifting so I would have to look for new places soon. I don’t know how I’ll manage it all,” she laments.
Ms. Devi often regrets her parents did not send her to school. She feels she would have been more equipped to handle the pressures of life had she been educated. In the houses where she works, she has noticed that the women are educated and most of them work outside the house to earn a living. She wishes her case had been similar. Though she is fairly independent on account of living alone, her lack of education often poses obstacles. This is why she is very keen on providing all possible opportunities to her sons. She does not want them to earn a living doing menial labour. Even Minku does not appreciate the fact that his mother has to wash utensils and sweep the floor at people’s homes. But he understands that she is doing it for his sake.
When asked about her personal interests or friends, Ms. Devi has nothing to say. She can’t think beyond her work, her sons and taking care of things at home. She is not overly optimistic about the future. She is working right now but her health often poses problems. That she doesn’t have job security is a worrying thought.
The most important thing for her is to see both her sons happily married and comfortably settled. She hasn’t considered any specific professions for them. Her only concern is that they should study well and work hard. She has never thought of marrying again. “If one man didn’t take care of me, I can’t see how any other will”, she says.
Living alone has various hardships but that doesn’t stop her planning for her future, apart from that of her sons. During the course of our conversations, she asks me about pension plans for widows and government support for students. She is also quite practical, considering she asked what SHE would get if her story gets published. Though Ms. Devi speaks continuously of her daily woes, one can see she is fiercely tenacious too.
Her only gripe against life is that things weren’t handed down fairly. Listening to her story, one realises that people who say money isn’t important are those who have it. As she told me, “If I were educated like you and had the money, I could have really lived life on my terms.”
[This article was written exclusively for The Delhi Walla.]