After interviewing several maids, something that continually surprised me was their intelligence in matters related to finance and income generation. Some women doing household work had never been to school while some had dropped out in just the third or fourth standard. These were people that were refereed to as “ungootha” in India, people that had to sign documents with their thumb print because they didn’t know how to sign their name.

I had come across such a woman named Suman Tukaram (husbands name, which is usually used as a middle name in India) Zhore. In the beginning of the interview, in fact he very first question, I asked her age. A simple question to which she responded “maybe 35? I don’t know because I’ve never been to school”. As I proceeded with the interview, I found that Mrs. Zhore had lost her husband 5 years ago and had been supporting her entire family, two school-going sons education, in laws and her parents with just her work. She said that even after her husband had died, she came into work just one week later claiming that there was no use in mourning over something that couldn’t be change. Instead, she said, I can focus on making the rest of my family’s life better, one worth living.

Mrs. Zhore in the five years after her husband’s death had taken a loan from her employer and built a entire top floor for her house. She had asked multiple people that she worked for the process for building a top floor and did it not for increased comfort, but so that the top floor could be rented out and used as another source of income.

Her employer even stated that in all the years that she had known Suman, she had never struck her as uneducated. Even when asking her employer about bank matters (employer was employed at Bank of India for 25+ years), she would ask four other people the same question and ask for clarification so she could understand whatever process it was fully. Even though she had no formal education, she never trusted one person’s opinion completely, no matter how much more education/experience they had than her. This to me, was a sign of true understanding and ‘street smarts’: intelligence that one needed to not only survive, but thrive in a place like India.

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About Vaidehi Dongre

Vaidehi is a sophomore majoring in International Studies with a focus on Southeast Asian political economy and development. After graduation, she is interested in obtaining a JD/MBA in International Law. Vaidehi will be working with scholars in Pune for four weeks to explore the difference in relationships between female employers and female maids depending on age group and income level.

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