Bajee: I only realised her importance after she left...
“Baba, Bajee…?” asks my two-year-old, rather inquisitively, each time I put him to sleep or wakes him up.
Bajee, the nanny, had been with us since before our son’s birth and had recently left for her village in Punjab to get married there.
My son didn’t take her departure very well and became frustrated. He would go about the house calling out for Bajee and looking for her. Putting him to bed became difficult and the worst thing was that he would keep getting up in the night to ensure that either me or my wife were present. Since then, he has not been sleeping in the crib; he sleeps besides me, with an arm around me to ensure that I won’t leave him.
My son misses her most because he has undergone drastic lifestyle changes over the past few months; from living with his grandparents, his uncle, aunt and their children, to moving to a new place with only the presence of Bajee during the day.
The thin, skinny lass, with skeletal features and a very high pitched voice had become our ‘ration officer’ (as my elder brother called her) because she was always at us whenever the household ran thin on provisions – more precisely, flour.
Her absence has left our grocery supply chain broken. With the kitchen manager’s slot vacant, we are experiencing – for the first time – what it means to suddenly realise that there is no flour, milk, eggs or the likes in the house. The wardrobes are a mess and our house wears a grim face, as if awaiting the vigilant touch of Bajee.
Her prominence in our lives was multiplied with our moving out of my parents’ home. The move deprived us from the luxuries of shared responsibility of an extended family and led us to an individual setup, bringing an all new set of duties which we had never, ever experienced earlier. Bajee had come to live with us and helped us settle-in.
The ration officer became our single source solution for meals, cleaning, taking care of our two children, washing dishes and clothes to iron. She was instrumental in arranging housewarming parties, which meant putting in extra hours along with my wife. They would be at it till two in the morning and would be up and about the other day.
I would wake up to the sound of my wife calling Bajee and handing her our four-month-old daughter.
“Make her milk and give me some tea.”
This was my cue to get out of bed, freshen up and change because Bajee had by now prepared tea and parathas.
By the time I sat at the dining table my wife was already on her way to work and gulping down my breakfast I used to follow suit, leaving Bajee in command of the house and kids. In the evenings, Bajee would have prepared the food, the children would be neatly dressed and a list of provisions and grocery would be ready.
In present times, and for working parents, finding the right, or more appropriately, a careful household maid has become the biggest problem. The gravity of this issue dawned on us as we sat about finding Bajee’s replacement. Frantic calls were made to all the aunties, bhabies (sisters-in-law) and just about everyone else to recommend a reliable resource.
Recruitment was not easy and it turned out to be the start of a very challenging job. A list of candidates was prepared, the references making clear that if we are to hire any of the referred females, we do so at our sole responsibility and indemnify them of such.
“No one can vouch for any person these days. Make sure you take their ID card and relevant details”, was the end note of every reference.
Secondly, candidates themselves brought a plethora of personal issues with them such as,
- A ghairatmand (respectable) brother who wanted her money but didn’t want her to work.
- A nikamma (useless) husband who was pushing her for the job.
- A lalchi (greedy) mother who had no qualms about her will or safety.
- A nashai (drug-addict) father who usually stole her income.
- An ashiq (romantic) fiancé who didn’t approve of her working but demanded a huge dowry.
People, especially women, can go on and on about ‘maid bashing’ but every interview ended with my wife sympathising with the candidates and feeling sad. It opened our eyes to the misery that domestic helps go through daily before they even start their (work) day. None of the candidates could clear the bar, set quite high by Bajee. Any future bajee, aunty or amma, who we are compelled to have with us, has had her work cut out.
Yes, we did have issues, such as loss of privacy, uncalled for participation in conversations and her loud shrills, but with Bajee no longer with us and the hunt for her replacement going on, my wife and I had come to admit that Bajee had a profound effect on our lives. We did feel blessed to have her with us and were grateful for the effort she had put in helping us maintain our lifestyle.
We never thought we could or would miss her shrills interrupting our conversations. The infringement of privacy had been uplifted but, on that first night, it wasn’t just our children who missed her – we did too.
“Baba, Bajee ...?” asked my angel again.
“Wo apne ghar main so rahi hain” (She is sleeping at her house)
This was my reply, while we lay in bed, trying to catch the much needed sleep.
The question and answer session is repeated for a while and has become a duet lullaby that we, the father-son duo, sing every night.
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