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
- maids have now (some) started coming to work on scooters
- they can operate cellphones, SMS in english even if they have not gone to school
- 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"
- Dedication and Quality in Work
- they now do the bare minimum of what is required
- they work in many houses (have many avenues for income) so they finish their work as quickly as possible
- try to finish work that generally takes 2 hours in 30 minutes and leave
- 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.
I was 12 years old when I withdrew from St. John’s International Residential School. I’m 19 now. It’s been seven years since I set foot on that South Indian campus.
Mathematics says, “36.8% of your life has passed by since.”
My mother’s basement security locker says, “You have finished middle school, high school, and since enrolled in college.”
My mind says, “The changes you’ve undergone since outweigh any estimates, infinitely.”
I scribbled email@example.com
on a post-it note and passed it to Rajkumar.
“Raj, this has been fun. You really helped me get through this place, but my brother and I decided we’re going back to America. We can only put up with so much food poisoning.”
“This is sad, man. Who knows when we’re going to meet again?”
“I’m not sure bro, but we’re gonna have to. Email me in a couple days after I make that email account.”
We dapped up and gave another a short hug.
“Smuggle another Red Bull from the snack bar for me next time.”
“For sure, man. Have fun in America.”
I left as a young boy, half traumatized, half invigorated. I never made that e-mail account. I never re-connected with anyone I met there. I only thought – always thought – about what would’ve changed if I stayed there, if I learned to accept the difficulties, if I never came in the first place, if I stayed in America, if I stayed enrolled at St. Michael’s, continuing the Catholic education I never returned to.
These questions are inexplicable, incomprehensible, unfathomable.
I had to go back to campus. I had to see what reaction the familiar place would evoke. That was the single thing I promised myself before leaving this summer to India. It would be a suitable last destination for the cross-country journey Madi, Matt, and I planned to take together. Continue reading →
I would like to share my final journal entry from my last day at the nunnery, because I think it reveals the true ways in which I've been touched by this experience. Or at least the feeling.
"It is my last day here at the nunnery. I woke up with the same feeling in my stomach as I have when I’m about to take an exam or perform on stage. Tight, anxious, anticipating. I can’t believe I’ve been here for two months. It really feels like just yesterday that I was slapping myself for wanting to go home because I knew that my time here would be over in a heartbeat. And now it is. Time is always moving forward, and it is amazing how quickly it does so.
The sadness is descending. Slowly and steadily. I am realizing how far away this place is from the rest of the world – nearly unreachable. I’m smiling because I’m an intrinsically happy person, and it’s almost impossible to be visibly upset in the presence of these sweet children and amazing women, but my heart is throbbing with a sentimental ache. I feel ready to leave, but readiness doesn’t mean that it won’t hurt to part with this place and these people. My new family, my new home.
I keep getting caught up in special little moments and my eyes fill with tears. I will miss the endless laughter, the jokes, the defined peaks that hug the valley, the girls running to embrace me, the constant flow of tea, and waking up alongside the breaking of sunrays over the valley. I will miss never having to worry about the state of my hair or the style of my clothes, the peace and quiet of a phone disconnected and untouched, folding dough for dinner, joking with the nuns about the holes in our socks (or windows, as we like to call them), and being warmed by Abi’s toothless grin. I will miss my girls welcoming me to class with a loud “Good morning, m’am!” I will miss the harmonic rhythm of the nuns’ chanting voices, and the damp wooden smell of the temple. I will miss it all.
Just as the nuns have been building new clay cottages on the hillside, so too has the spirit of the nunnery been building a home for the memories of this special place in the vast, open territories of my heart. All the beautiful moments I’ve experienced here exist in every beat – reverberating out into the universe. This place and the love that it fosters is now an undeniable part of me. A part that can never be washed away or burned, lost or borrowed, buried or destroyed. With the passing of time the memories might slip deeper into my subconscious, but they will never leave. They will never die.
This place has grown slowly and twistingly, like an ivy rope, through the blood in my veins, along the curve of my smile, and around the cage of ribs in my chest. I feel the spirit in me and around me, and when I’m gone I will carry it with me. I will spread the love I’ve known here with each footstep, handshake, and smile. When I first got to the nunnery, I doubted if this place would change me. I was closed off, and I thought I’d remain that way – resistant to the essential soul of the people and of the place because I was scared to be touched by something unfamiliar. But slowly slowly I’ve opened up like, the wild roses that bloom here in the summer, and I’ve let the sunshine inside me. I will never forget these moments and the way they’ve strengthened my heart. Although this physical space, this sacred place, is as far away as the moon, I can always return just by listening to the steady rhythm of my heart. There lies the spirit. There lies the love."
I have about a million more – but here are a few pictures to paint some sort of visual of my Himalayan adventure…
Abi-lay (grandmother) and I became best friends over the summer. I told her I wanted to send her photos of us together, but she told me that she doesn’t like looking at herself in pictures. Last summer, she threw all her photos over the bridge into the river!
This photo was taken in Karsha village where I spent a week attending a holy festival. Here you can see the traditional dress for Ladakhi women.
Atop a mountain, next to the ruins of the old Zangla palace.
Making the hike to the monk monastery in Karsha. I followed these nuns around like a lost puppy…
Yangdol (3) washing her hands.
Continue reading →
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.
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.
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
- soft chuckle, "interesting"
- 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.