City Society – Maids in Gay Households
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How do they cope.
[Text and picture of Ms Anima Dungdung by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Delhi is not exactly a gay-friendly city. Here life is complicated not just for the gay person but also for his parents, siblings and… the maid.
After spending three decades in expat households, Jharkhand’s Ms Aneema Dungdung thought she had seen the world. She hadn’t. On May 1, 2006, she got new masters in Defence Colony. Two American men.
Ms Dungdung presumed them to be friends who slept in the same room. “I was happy since I would have to make just one bed,” Ms Dungdung says. The reality hit when another expat memshib told Ms Dungdung that her Def Col sahibs were like married couples. “Aisa bhi hota hai,” she exclaimed.
Whether Ms Rani, a maid in Lajpat Nagar, was shocked or not is something Mr Shashi Bhushan is not sure of. A 27-year-old lawyer in Delhi High Court, Mr Bhushan is ‘out’ to his parents. Lightning struck Ms Rani when his parents were away. One afternoon, while she was mopping the floor, she came across gay porn magazines on his bed. “She was flipping it page by page,” Ms Bhushan remembers.
This was tame. Remember the Gujarati maid Kantaben as she discovers Shah Rukh Khan embracing Saif Ali Khan in the 2004 blockbuster Kal Ho Na Ho? Her first reaction was a shiver down her spine.
Real life, though, is different. Ms Dungdung just grew wiser. She watched TV debates more carefully and came to understand more about the “boy-boy couple”.
Ms Rani, Mr Bhushan’s maid in Lajpat Nagar, was more hyper. She spilled all to the mother. “While Ma defended me, saying it’s my age, Rani claimed there were no girls in the mag,” Mr Bhushan says. Momma said, “No, no, the girls come in the later pages.”
Now when Ms Bhushan has male friends coming, Ms Rani just throws an all-knowing smile.
Since homosexuality widely remains a non-existent issue in Indian society, a few couples manage to evade the looks, smiling or otherwise, of their domestics. Instead, the antenna is better tuned to unmarried men living with women.
In her memoirs On Balance, Justice Leila Seth discusses her son Vikram Seth’s sexuality. She describes her anxiety about what servants would think when Vikram would have not a male companion, but a female one.
Most couples I talked to choose to let their maids keep doing the “guess work”, since they think sexuality is a private matter. “My maid is dumb if she can’t get it, since I rarely have women guests,” says a diplomat in Malcha Marg. “But she has a much easier time with me than with her previous employer, who had a wife and children.”
Ms Dungdung’s employers, too, told her nothing concerning their private life but she grew fond of them. “I saw them as my brothers,” she says. “Despite being boys, they would always dress and behave properly when I was around.” On September, 2008, the ‘brothers’ moved to London.
If Ms Dungdung was happy with her sahibs, Mr Bhushan, too, has no complaint with his help. “Rani is a good girl,” he says.