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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Somethings I noticed about employers in general:

-some buy their maids pre-paid cell phones or cell phone plans (not just out of the kindness of their hearts) but so they can know where the maids are 24 hours a day 5 days a week. This way, the maids have no excuse for not being able to inform the employer why they didn’t come to work or why they were late.

One of the most interesting questions in my questionnaire has been “do you think maids have changed, if so then how”. The two main topics that came up were

  1. Modernity
    1. maids have now (some) started coming to work on scooters
    2. they can operate cellphones, SMS in english even if they have not gone to school
    3. they physically keep clean and dress well (wear make up) one employer even said that this chane has come from “observing the way we talk, live, behave”
  2. Dedication and Quality in Work
    1. they now do the bare minimum of what is required
    2. they work in many houses (have many avenues for income) so they finish their work as quickly as possible
    3. try to finish work that generally takes 2 hours in 30 minutes and leave
    4. In fact, the maid that works at my aunts house lovingly referred  to as “jaadu” always tries to leave the house early. When my older cousin is around the house, he always finds a long list of things for her to do after she finishes one task.

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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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As I took more and more interviews and asked the questions all in marathi (translating my questionnaire into marathi so that both maids and employers would be able to understand it is something that Tejal tai and I had worked on together) I realized all the possbile problems I could encounter.

The employer obviously wants to come across as a very kind, caring and generous person which, unfortunately, not all are. In one of my questions in the questionnaire, I ask if the employer and maid talk about anything besides work (chit chat).

The employer would take it as what I had intended to ask and respond with “yes all the time, about the weather, family etc”. However, the maid would first hurriedly respond No, no of course, thinking that I was asking how focused they are at work. After responding no, once I changed the question a bit, asking if they chit chat with their employer, the maids said “oh of course, yeah sometimes about weather, news, family”.

The issue with this was the word being used in my question. Since I had written the original questions in english, I translated the “besides work” into “kaam sodun” which technically (to the maids at least) means that you leave the work you are doing behind to chat with your employer which is obviously unacceptable.

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My first research subject was a lady that lives in the flat across from us known only to me previously as “Kane Kaku” (pronounced kaa-nay kaa-koo, kaku means aunt). Kane is a typical koknastha brahmin name, what some people in punne call “ekaranta koknastha” because “nay” makes an eh sound (it is supposed to be the higher subcaste in the caste Brahmin). Tejal tai (one of Pushkaraj Kaka’s collegues/relatives/friends) had a lot of experience in research and interviews so she had come to observe and help me.

By the way if you live here long enough, you’ll find that you are related to half of Pune in some way or another.

Kane kaku was a short, stout, umbradge-looking lady with a fair complexion with light green eyes and a slightly nasal sounding voice. She ushered us both in and offered us food (it was a bit after lunchtime and it is a custom to offer guests food/ coffee/teapretty much at ever time of the day) which we politely declined. I offered her a small ziplock of chocolates from the US ,which I had planned to give to all the employers, and began my research schpeel:  What I was doing in Pune for a month and why on earth household maids interested me to which the response was almost always

  1. soft chuckle, “interesting”
  2. oh, wow you’re marathi is good, how long have you lived in the US

Kane kaku also replied with a soft chuckle, curious stare and hesitantly started answer my questions.

The funniest part about all of this was that Kane Kaka, hur husband, sat on the sofa just across from us pretending to read a paper (but actually chiming and totally involved in the conversation, every time he thought he needed to clarify a statement). A tall stern looking gentlemen in his late 50s who in the 15+ years my family had known him smiled twice.


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Girl Meets World

I landed on the platform (train) and due to my lack of phone at that point, had to wait about 25 minutes before my aunt (Atya) came to pick me up. I spent that time observing the small chit chat of the people around me and the absurd amount of trash on the train tracks. From the time that I sat on my aunts scooter (activa) to the point where we entered the apartment complex I tried as much as possible to shut my eyes so I wouldn’t have a heart attack looking at all the traffic. We ran 4-5 red lights and at one point I’m pretty sure we actually stopped at one and had to run it because the cars behind us were honking at us to go….I know right.

I was greeted in Pune with a light shower of rain as we parked the scooter in Kusumkunj (my aunts apartment). Atya (my dad’s older sister), Vahini (brother’s wife) and my cousin Manasi were there to greet me.

This placed had changed a lot as us kids had grown older. There was now a bungalow in the area that we used to play outside, my aunt and uncle had bought two more flats in the same building and even the bathrooms had changed from indian toilets to western toilets.

While so many things had changed, there was still a familiar smell and millions of memories attached to this place and I at once felt like I had come home.

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Girl on the Train cont…

About 10 more women ran into our box on the train at almost every stop…there are no other words that can be used to describe the scene other than every inch of the train was being used to it’s full capacity.

As the woman from the UP got up to move her things above her seat, along came a slightly older woman and quickly sat in her spot: an argument erupted. The most hilarious thing was that not only were the two women

who actually should be the only ones involved in this argument) were fighting back and forth, but four or five other women, one outside the train had joined in and taken sides.

13932215_10210181019910457_2115982592_o“Aaji, you should know better than to take this UP woman’s seat, she has been sitting there for over 2 hours”, a college going girl scolded.

The best line was what I like to call a mar-hindi mix (mar means hit in marathi), or a marathi person’s way of completely destroying the hindi language.

Continue reading

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Girl on the Train

“The Nagercoil Express from Mumbai to Pune will leave the platform at 30 minutes after 12”. I ran onto the platform with a bag of some of my things. My second day in India (July 22) and my research plans had already been changed, instead of starting research on August 1st, the date had been bumped up  because the Professor I was working prior to my arrival had to suddenly leave the country for work on July 24th.13940078_10210181020230465_462371580_o

So there I was, gasping as I boarded the train just 2 minutes before it’s departure time in the “unreserved” ladies compartment completely unaware of what I would witness in the next 4 and a half hours of the train journey.

The first few stops were quite comfortable, I had managed to get the window seat with the entire rest of the bench free of people and just threeladies sitting across from me: one who looked to be muslim with an entire headscarf/burkha duo and the other with her daughter, both of which looked to be from the UP (not the same UP that we use in Michigan I can assure you). UP stands for Uttar Pradesh which is a state in the northern, center part of India. People from the UP speak in a particular Hindi dialect, one which I had heard before when studying Hindustani Classical music. The word “kahe” is used instead of “kya” which means what in English…but I digress.

The first few stops went by with very talking from any of us. However, as the train started to become crowded, I thought that perhaps, the women might be waiting for the hustle and bustle to add their noise to.

To be continued…


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