Domestic Violence

No, I’m not beating my wife. If anything at all, it would be the other way around. (She gives me a piercing look from across the table when I ask for her approval as I write down that sentence. Then, she disarmingly nods in agreement.)  Domestic violence, in my opinion, is the attack that ensues when a perfectly self-sustaining happy family, such as ours, who’ve lived in the Western Hemisphere for longer than a holiday, decide to return to their roots in Mumbai.  The assault is never internal; it’s always from external forces.

After the transient elation of the “mere watan ki khusboo”-wala feeling when you land at the airport and drive past Dharavi to reach home, the barrage of brutality inflicted on you is endless. The six aunties who read this article might already be thinking, “Aai muo thora varas foreign reyne aaiyo and he’s cursing our beautiful city. Su samjhech ennaa man ma?” So, let me explain myself, in case there are others already preparing the ground to ban me from writing.

 

Maids. Suddenly, you need maids. As new parents, your life is supposed to revolve around your charming children—charming only to you, indescribable to anyone else. Nonetheless, in Mumbai, your life revolves around maids. They come to you, seemingly innocently, offering you their services for a fee, but before you know it, they control your life the way some of these fake godmen control hapless devotees. They determine what time you can leave home and when you have to return. There was a time when we checked our respective calendars to see if we had an evening free to make dinner plans; now, we have to check with them.

 

Dinner table conversations have taken a drastic turn. From discussing art, music, philosophy, and sometimes even our bowel movements, the focus has shifted to the baffling and unyielding topic of the magical maid. “Today, Renuka (a friend’s maid) went off with her boyfriend for a few hours, leaving little children alone at home,” my wife tells me. I responded with, “That way, ours is more conscientious; at least she takes the kids with her even when she has to meet her boyfriend!” The number of “you’re just not bothered about the safety of our kids” looks I get in one day is enough to light a fire, but I was ‘saved by the bell’—literally a ring at the door. It’s another maid who has come for an interview.

 

The number of maids I’ve had to interview is definitely more than the number of hospitals I interviewed with to start work upon my arrival at Mumbai. This maid was sent to us by a request my neighbour posted on a WhatsApp group called DPC Google Babes. This group has been formed by a host of wonderful women from Dadar Parsi Colony who will provide you with information way faster than Google. From knowing the cheapest couriers to send to the US, to which aunty makes the softest paneer, to the friendliest dog beauty parlour in the neighbourhood, and where to enrol for an Aadhaar card even after the enrolment date has expired, this girl gang knows it all. Men, for obvious reasons, are not permitted here.

 

Maids, incidentally, are the government’s equivalent of the Aadhaar card. They know where you’ve been, what you’ve done, and how much money you make (which, in my case, is sometimes lesser than their salary). They are constantly lurking around you, completely ignoring the Supreme Court’s ruling of our right to privacy. The speed at which they spread rumours will give Bombay Times a run for its money.  Those who cook will not clean, those who clean will not babysit, and those who babysit will neither clean nor cook. Then, before you know it, you are left with dirty and hungry babies. Which, if I think about it, pretty much reminds me of my childhood.

 

 God forbid you have more than one maid in the house; then, you have to make sure their kundlis match. They will do everything possible to eliminate the other: from girly gossip to dangerous deceit, they stop at nothing.  In case the Parsi in you has given one of them a loan, the other will manipulate you on getting twice that amount. After that you end up working for both of them. You don’t need Netflix—the Game of Thrones plays live every day, in a kitchen near you.

 

Once you are adequately attacked within the confines of your own home, the next form of domestic violence takes place once you step out to take a walk in the colony. Not so long ago, I used to boast that I lived in one of the most serene, peaceful, and picturesque parts of the city, a joy bestowed only upon a privileged few. While I still love the colony, I am heartbroken to see what is becoming of it. Piles of garbage lie heaped on sidewalks for weeks, broken trees and damaged fences stay unrepaired for months. The only creative game I can play with my 3-year-old while taking her for a walk is to identify which animal and bird ‘potty’ she can see on the footpath. So far, we’ve mastered the difference between pigeons and crows, dogs and cats, and now, thanks to the monsoon, we are on earthworm verses centipede.

 

The third form of violence is when I step out of the colony.  That’s when you realize that Bombay truly has become Mumbai. The tumultuous traffic, the horrendous honking, the pervasive potholes, and the insane indiscipline can stupefy all your senses. The radio is rude, the television taunts, and the Internet is intrusive. The only thing that soothes upon my return home is my neighbours’ parrot Polly, who is passionate about a pursuit for perfection in profusely using profanity. Every time I attempt to stroke his ageing beak, the swearing is as magical and enchanting as the ‘agiari na ghanta’. Polly’s swearing can even silence the cacophony of the Ganpati celebrations on the main road.

 

Despite all its inadequacies, every day, thousands of people come to Mumbai to make their dreams come true. The city grants you your wish instantly if your dream is to be stuck in traffic. But for everything else, you have to work extremely hard, especially when you drive around on the city’s roads. You sometimes get giddy, because this city seems to be moving forward and backward at the same time, culturally and philosophically. The key to surviving either your maid or Mumbai or anything that is made in Mumbai is by approaching things with equanimity.  Staying composed in this madness is the only way. A friend once told me, “The way to happiness is to be happy on the way.” To which I quipped, “Even if it is full of potholes below and potheads besides!”