Saturday, June 11, 2011

Maid in India

In the year 2002, when my daughter was a toddler and life was a scheduling algorithm, I had this idea of starting a 'maid agency'.

An agency which would supply professionally trained, trustworthy domestic help - something I would gladly pay a premium for.

The inspiration was a visit to Singapore, where the maid economy seemed to flow so smoothly and efficiently (just like every aspect of life in that country!). But surely, there was *something* we could learn from them, and implement here.

I didn't actually get into it - because it was a great idea, but not the idea I wanted to devote my life to. Life somehow went on, I was lucky to have a wonderful girl work with for more than five years.

Then, Lata got married and I was back scouring maidland for clean, reliable and efficient domestic help. Once again I wished there was an agency I could call!

So this morning, when I woke up and glanced at Mint I said to myself, "Finally!" The cover story chronicled the quiet revolution in the 'home service staff industry'. Thanks to entrepreneurs like Shawn Runacres of Domesteq Service Solutions, a a Delhi based domestic staff placement and training agency.

Originally started to cater to expats, 60% of Domesteq's clients are now Indians. And in Gurgaon, where they've just started a branch it's 90%.

The report says a similar service is offered by Partners in Prosperity, a Delhi-based NGO. Catering to more middle class homes. Similarly, there is 'Care Service' in Bangalore. In Mumbai I am told an NGO run by Jesuits called Seva Niketan has a domestic employment bureau.

So far, so good but demand far exceeds supply. There are many agents, but all they do is serve as middlemen - connecting you with a potential worker. Very few are taking up the task of training and upgrading the women, thus increasing their earning capacity. And making life easier for working couples and young mothers.

But that apart, sometimes I wonder, what is it *we* can do to make things better. Why don't we pay our maids far more - for they are literally our lifelines.

Because we believe there is a 'rate' for everything and it isn't wise to disturb the status quo.

"Zyada sar par chada kar mat rakho" is the advice given by generations of mothers. Treat your maid kindly but firmly, never let her forget who is the boss.

But again, times are changing. I recall this beautiful article by Rama Bijapurkar on the subject of maids which hit bullseye:

On her 45th birthday, my friend decided to thank the important people in her life who had helped her with her home-and-career juggling act all these years; so she took her cook and her housekeeper for a multiplex movie and a good dinner. Working mothers know that when it comes to the crunch, it is the quality of your maid and not the quality of your presentation that determines your career success.

Rama also has quite a few practical suggestions on how to a 'maid to order'. With or without an agency, training, motivating and rewarding an employee is, after all, in our hands.

Hands that today, are free of dirty dishes. But who knows, what tomorrow holds...

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