Dependency on Domestic Help

Oh the shame, before moving to India I had never dreamt of having a maid to do the washing up (…maybe a dream about husband who would do it) but I have discovered how easy it is for one to slip into such a lifestyle. In India, almost every middle class family has some form of domestic help. I hated the idea of having a maid come into our home to begin with, I felt it was intrusive and strange. Okay, I will admit it (as I am already shaming myself here) I was scared and used to hide in my bedroom!

That didn’t last long of course, I was soon friends with the regular ladies, enjoying their company and how the apartment is transformed after their visit. What a difference a couple of years makes, I already feel dread when our maid, who comes to our house most mornings, doesn’t turn up! The woman who comes to do our washing up and sweeping has gone on holiday for five days. Just five days and my initial feeling was panic, what am I going to do without her?!

Alfonso jumper green pug

Alfonso in his jumper from England, for those winter nights!

To shame myself further, I have friends and family who are mothers, work full-time and still manage to do all the housework and put dinner on the table!! To be fair, they don’t have the atmospheric dust to contend with which creates a new layer of grime every couple of hours (hmm… I think I have failed to find a valid excuse for my feeling of dependency).

Lauren, snap out of it!

I guess I was overreacting, I soon discovered that I obviously still have the ability to do the washing up without much of a fuss. Our maid comes for less than half an hour every morning, that’s all. I can put some music on and have everything done in no time. I am so surprised by how easy it was for me to feel dependent on domestic help!! It’s not just the work, it’s having the friendly face and that extra structure to the day. I cannot begrudge our maid a holiday, but I will be glad when she returns! In the meantime, I really need to go and wash some pots!

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How I Learnt to Make Perfect Roti

I’ve always been rubbish at making roti, I tried and failed so many times, I gave up. They were either overcooked or undercooked and never round. Not even close to being round, you could make a doughy puzzle with them.  I would work up such a sweat to produce something that was barely edible. It made me feel so deflated that I stopped trying.

When we moved to our apartment, I wanted see how I could cope without a maid but my husband made an excellent point. Who would make the roti? He never complained when I did make roti (if you could even call them roti!), but he knew how much the process of it all sent me close to an emotional breakdown. I can cook Indian dishes, no problem, we just needed someone to make the roti for his tiffin (the lunchbox he takes to work).

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The younger maid from my mother-in-law’s place owns a bicycle and she volunteered to come over and make the roti every morning for us, result! I knew her, I was comfortable with her and she speaks a little bit of English, this was a perfect arrangement. We live less than 1km from my in-laws place so it wasn’t too much of a hassle for her to come and she always enjoyed playing with Alfonso.

The great roti problem solved….

I have written about this maid before,  when she started stealing my favourite snack from the fridge. At the time I really couldn’t begrudge her it and once I had overcome the fact I wouldn’t be having dhokla for breakfast as planned, I found the humour in it. Sadly, things got extreme when she stole a large sum of cash from my mother-in-law’s bedroom. We were both, my mother-in-law and I, in the house at the time and due to the sequence of events, we knew it was definitely her. I was so upset when she had to be fired, I had really bonded with this woman beyond our language barrier after knowing her for over two years.

It was extremely emotional but necessary for her to go, obviously we will never know what circumstances led her to steal that amount of money but this behaviour could not be ignored. It really took it out of me and even though the money wasn’t mine, I felt betrayed. I was also upset that the maid must be going through a hard time. I had to start making roti until we could find a suitable maid. 

The first couple of attempts produced catastrophic results, Slowly they started to improve, there were soft instead of stodgy, the shape of them became smoother and one fine day, one of them actually ballooned! Those who are unfamiliar with the craft of roti making, when a roti balloons, it’s perfect! I didn’t know I could feel so much joy watching a roti inflate!

Photo credit: indianfoodrocks.com

Photo credit: indianfoodrocks.com

Three weeks later, we had found a new maid, but something strange and unexpected had happened, I was enjoying making the roti every morning! To this day I am still getting up early to make round roti. I find it somewhat therapeutic and relaxing. It really is a matter of loosening your wrists a little, discovering the best ratio of water to flour and most importantly, practice! Practice makes perfect! My mother-in-law came over for lunch recently and was really impressed by my gol gol roti . I am going to admit it, I am pretty proud of myself…and my husband has gained 10lbs!

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The Missing Dhokla

Dhokla is my favourite Indian snack, well, now that pani puri is off the menu. At least four nights a week, my husband buys a small box from Haldiram’s on his way home from his office. Some of you may be asking, what on Earth is a dhokla? Well, the best way I can describe a dhokla is as a juicy, spicy, spongy cake, topped with mustard seeds and coriander. This might sound strange but trust me, it’s delicious. Dhokla is native to the northern state of Gujarat, but luckily the juicy snack has found it’s way down to Maharashtra!

One evening my husband brought home a huge amount of dhokla, more than we could eat in one sitting. The prospect of having some for breakfast the next morning was really exciting (yes, extremely exciting, dhokla is exciting). I went to bed that night thinking of how fabulous it will be to have dhokla for breakfast. The next morning, my stash of dhokla crossed my mind before I had even sat up!

Photo credit: thehindu.com dhokla

Photo credit: thehindu.com

I waited until my husband had left for work and our maid had finished her work before delving into the fridge, I didn’t want to have to share it with them. I know, it was selfish and greedy, but I had looked forward to this moment for more than twelve hours. I opened the box and to my dismay, only a very small single piece sat alone in the box. I had built up ten tonnes of anticipation over this lavish dhokla breakfast I had planned, I didn’t even enjoy what I did have because I was feeling deflated. I sent a message to my husband, “why did you eat my breakfast dhokla, I made you a nice breakfast”. He responded with, “I didn’t eat any dhokla“. Then it dawned on me, my cheeky maid had taken it.

I love the lady who comes to clean our floors and wash our clothes, she also works at my in-laws house so I have known her for nearly two years. She speaks enough English so we can have a joke together and she works very hard. She is sassy, funny and loves Alfonso (which is important because he loves her). I first met our maid on my first day in India when she burst into my bedroom and started sweeping, it gave me a huge fright and I was a little scared of her for several months, but now I feel very comfortable around her and enjoy her company.

When it happened a second time, dhokla went missing, I was about to offer her some until I saw she had already helped herself.  A couple weeks later, we went for lunch at my in-laws place and our maid was there helping my mother-in-law. We had brought dhokla as a side dish. My mother-in-law, knowing that the maid couldn’t resist, gave her a big plate of it saying “she loves dhokla.” We all laughed, the dhokla thief included.

I cannot really begrudge our maid some snacks and since she has started taking dhokla, I have offered her food more often. I guess it’s not just me who get’s excited over dhokla!

UPDATE: What happened next…

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How my relationship with the maids has changed

I found it really difficult to live in a house with maids, it felt so strange. When I first moved to India, I will be honest, I was scared of them! Even though both of the maids who work here are extremely friendly, I felt intimidated. I would creep around them, worried I would be getting in their way. I would always wait for them to leave the house before I left my room, my daily routine revolved around their work schedule. I hid from them and did everything in my power to avoid them, I even stopped eating because they spent so much time in the kitchen.

Why? I was still suffering from my anxiety disorder and quite honestly most things were scary, but having maids was just way out of my comfort zone. When I came to live in India, I was not the same person I was when I came to visit only six months previous. During my time back in England I had fallen into depression and developed an anxiety disorder and I have worked on recovering from those two demons ever since.

I wanted to hide away from people and the maids would always be around. If I would leave my room and they were still there, I would feel terrified, my heart would race and my palms become sweaty. Why? I don’t know. I guess, anxiety disorder is irrational by nature and they became the focus of my panic.

Over time  I have become accustomed to having maids around and my anxiety levels have decreased, this means that I am not scared of them anymore. Now, I enjoy their company. When my husband is at work, I feel so comfortable with the maids. We have a great time, usually laughing at Alfonso’s antics!  I still insist on cleaning my room myself and cook for my husband and I, I still want my privacy and so glad they don’t just walk into my room uninvited anymore.

We have an understanding even though we lack a common spoken language, instead we use laughter and hand signals to communicate. They are both very lovely and kind-hearted women, and I feel foolish for being scared of them, but it just shows how debilitating misplaced and irrational anxiety is. I will miss both of the maids when we move to another place, I am sure Alfonso will miss them too! I am not sure if we will get a maid in our new place though, it took me a while to trust these two and I will want to bask in the privacy I am craving so much for a while.