Homemakers left with the Hobson’s choice
We’re being held to ransom!” thundered the belligerent association president. She was presiding over an emergent meeting of the women of the apartment complex convened to tackle the crisis of maidservants. “There’s a limit to their blackmail.”
“I wish she would make up her mind whether it’s ransom or blackmail,” one woman in the audience sniggered to her neighbour. “It’s all the same,” her companion whispered back.
“This is the price we’re paying for subsidised rice,” pronounced the secretary. Many of the members looked baffled. What did low-cost rice have to do with their lavish lifestyle? The secretary explained, “Not only is the rice subsidised by taxing us more, but the cheap rice also shrinks the supply of maids because it makes them too lethargic to go out and find work. Maidservants cease to be maidservants.”
Although homemakers themselves, they couldn’t understand why women from ‘that’ class of society chose to sit at home and take care of their children rather than augment their earnings by working as maidservants. For a generation of women that had been spoilt on a limitless supply of servants from the village, the changed scenario of near drought in getting help at home was very distressing. It had boiled down to a Hobson’s choice between indulging ‘terrorists’ in the garb of maids and having no support at all.
“It has come to our notice,” the president went about, “that a sinister game of ‘baiting the maid’ is being played by some. We must close ranks against the militant activities of maidservants, including their rumour-mongering, and not fall into their trap of divide and rule by enticing servants away from neighbours with promises of higher wages, free saree, etc. This has to stop.”
Amidst howls of ‘Why?’, ‘How can you say that?’ and ‘Withdraw the statement’, the secretary butted in, “Well, it’s an open secret that everyone pays extra money to the servant on the sly just to get the normal job done.”
A medley of voices rose with ‘Speak for yourself’ and ‘Does everyone include you and the president too?’ The president thumped the table repeatedly to bring the crowd under control. “It’s a matter of shame that respectable ladies should behave with so much agitation here, when they have no guts to deduct even one day’s wages from a maid for absenteeism.”
This time there was not even a murmur. No one could deny that the maidservants were being dished out their monthly wages in toto in spite of not coming to work for days together. In the cutthroat battle for servants, could anyone dare to cut her maid’s salary for being absent, knowing very well that it would bring down the Damocles’ Sword dangling overhead?
“Can we take a collective decision today,” the exasperated secretary suggested, “to instil some discipline by following a policy of ‘no work, no pay’? All of us should commit not to pay her servant for the number of days she’s absent from duty.” Even as they vigorously nodded in agreement, each one wondered who among them was going to ‘bell’ the maid.
“I guess there’s no choice but to do our own household work,” the last words were uttered by someone from the back rows.