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Thursday 1 October 2015

Of Bais Gone By (A Saga) - Chapter 1

The title piqued your curiosity, did it?

Feudalism has been subject to criticism from times immemorial, however in India, we are still to come to terms with the fact that the days of feudalism are but short-lived!!
For non-Mumbaikars,
Bai- A Mumbai term for a maid but literally translated is a 'lady' in Marathi.

Picture credit: WWW-Maid in India on Behance
Sunita is humming a happy little tune, barely audible amidst all the clanging and clashing of the vessels she is washing. My ears however being attuned and in-sync with Bai going ons, perceive the music & auto trigger the internal alarm button. Happy music is the prelude to a leave application a.k.a chutti request, a verbal formality in the offing! I mentally start calculating the number of chuttis that have been taken this month. Officially, the un-official Bai-union has mandated two days a month as paid holiday, but genial good-natured bais round it off to a wholesome four or five days a month! It was the 14th of this month and we were already two holidays down, conveniently taken on Sundays to let the Maid of the house, ahem, Mistress of the House take complete charge!
Sunita is the 12th 'Bai-in-chief' currently rendering her services at my home. 
The voyage navigating the high seas of domestic day-today workings has been counter tide, formidable and mostly traumatic!

Learning the ropes
Flash-back to the first Bai-in-chief - Vrinda it was!
At this juncture I am compelled to recall one of the characters created by my favourite author - P.G Wodehouse - the regal doorman to one of the upscale hotels in London who had the bearing of the ex-King of Ruritania.
Well, Vrinda Bai was as daunting as the ex-Queen of Ruritania in comparison! More so to a first time novice like me called upon to take charge of the household! Her robust no-nonsense matter-of-fact personality, her speed of action combined with a not so servile attitude had me over-awed from day one! She didn’t believe in wasting time or words, the moment she entered the field/house, action it was! A true Maidathon or Bajrangi Bai-jaan if ever there was!!!

Pic credit: Personal scribblings
My neighbours were impressed that I had been able to recruit her, since she was reputed to be very discerning about which households she chose to render her services to! Well, I must have said or done something impressive during the two minute interview at our doorstep or probably my non-negotiating skills at her asking rates, tipped the scales in my favour. Whatever the reasons, once she had assumed proprietary, she was ruthless in her fight against dirt, grime and disorder. She ensured that her workplace was spankingly clean and did not appreciate any interference/suggestions in her area of command. I meekly supplied her with the requisite weapons pertaining to her onslaught. I remember, she had a particular fondness for dilute acid used for scourging toilets & demanded a monthly ration of the hashid as she called it.
In the initial months of matrimony, I was perpetually engrossed in culinary battles during the day, so that I could effortlessly present gourmet quality food in the evening to impress my besotted young husband, with a flick of my hand and say “What this ol’ thing? I used to make this when I was 8!!” These battles often resulted in a number of charred vessels, oil spills and of course inedible by products. This was too much for the neatness freak Vrinda! She took to surreptitious supervising of my actions in kitchen. She diligently hovered behind me whenever I announced I was going to try out some new recipe. Casually, she would ask me the details of the experiment and suggest variations to it or totally rubbish it by saying, “Yeh item sahib ko accha nahi lagega!” My sense of invention and innovation took umbrage to this interference in my battle tactics, but I had to sheepishly admit, her views on the subject were mostly correct!
My tryst with Vrinda lasted for just about 3 months, but she remains till date the best maid I have ever come across! She had to quit work to take care of her ailing parents in the village.
Honeymoon period over....Boo-hoo! From thence started my Maid-saga, which seems to be a never ending one!
Very thoughtfully, Vrinda had nominated an heir to take her place. Sarita, a diminutive girl claiming to be 26 years old and married with a child, was in major contradiction to her predecessor. Slightly built, midget of a girl, a wily one, all smooth talk, expert in theatrics (which had even the perspicacious Vrinda deceived) and low on the action front.

Pic credit: Personal scribblings
Sarita always entered the house with a long suffering, martyred look, which immediately put me to shame for leading an indulgent, woe free life. I rushed to set things right, telling her to relax under the fan while I got her a steaming cup of over-sweetened chai. Only after the last dregs of the tea had percolated her being, did she deign to give me a begrudging smile. Feeling a trifle redeemed, I politely enquired how things were going with her. Little did I know what I was in for…..what followed was a half-hour rant on everything from her health, her drunkard husband, creepy in-laws, rogue train commuters and much more!! I could scarcely believe the absurd evil-eye-warder stories of her tantrik sister-in-law and the marauding, 'mantra-phukking' (hypnosis-inducing) pickpockets on train, but it did enliven my morning!
After enduring the lively and impassioned patter for quite a while, I ventured to interrupt her and suggested that she might want to soak the clothes in hot water before she started doing the other chores. Masters of their own doings, seldom appreciate such hints! Indignantly she retorted, that it was my duty to soak them in advance, not part of her deal. She also clarified that I was to henceforth clear away and re-lay the floor of all carpets, furniture and other nick-nacks before and after she swept (literally whizzed) through them with her broom. And in the kitchen, she persisted, her package did not include the sorting and arranging of the washed items in their designated places. Before she worked up more steam to continue on her tirade, my self-preservation instincts kicked in and I hastened to proffer the bundle of old clothes that I had planned to barter with a ‘Bhartan-wali ’. This surprise present greatly appeased her, and she magnanimously threw in a counter peace-offer of spreading out the clothes on the line, after wash. I felt the thrill of a small victory!
Well, the days progressed on this daily barter of threats and presents, blackmails and ransoms for a few months!

Enter my in-laws for their first formal stay with the newly weds. For a couple of days, my mother-in-law quietly scrutinized the workings of the household with the new Chief of Staff (me) and the new cadre (Sarita) with the air of a seasoned war-veteran!
While I nervously ambled on trying to impress all with my suave home-management skills, my mother-in-law quietly observed Sarita's frivolity, her inadequate work ethics, and my inability to curb or see through her performances.
Her appraisal of both Mistress and Maid, were definitely not upto the standards accorded in the Statute of Mistresses and Handbook of Maid-manship. After the cursory two days of inspection, she decided that I required intensive tutoring in Bai-Sanskaar and proceeded to do just that!
General MIL's doctrine of Bai-Sanskaar as she proceeded to inform me, was time-tested and infallible, a secret wisdom passed on through generations!! That got my attention and I was all ears to be privvy to such a secret.
To summarize the contents of the famed Six-pronged doctrine - (Please imagine reading this to the background music of conch shells blaring and chants of  'yada yada hi dharmasya....')

1. Always maintain a firm, dignified and cool demeanour in the presence of the housemaid.
2. Never engage in idle chit-chat with the said subject.
3. Avoid evincing interest in the maid's personal life.
4. Never indulge in salary advance policy.
5. Never discuss family topics, or have arguments within their earshot - they may or may not understand your language but your tone of discussion could provide with meat for gossip.
And last but not the least,
 6. Never disclose your holiday plans with the domestic.
Post Gita-Upadesh, I presume the Lord would have heaved a long breath of pride at having delivered something truly monumental and stupendous!! Similar sentiments were echoed by my benevolent MIL, and she, nostalgically sniffed that she had unfailingly followed these rules all through and thus become the queen of her fiefdom.
Little did she know that her Parth needed a lot more prodding than the original, to enter the battlefield!!

Well, once I had heard the entire secret sanskaar, it didn't seem like such a big deal, right? Easy-peasy I thought privately, while I gushed my gratitude to MIL, to have been thus imparted these pearls of wisdom!
I decided that I would sincerely put these lethal weapons to use on the next domestic help that came into service. It would be silly to crusade my new-found wisdom around Sarita, she herself being a con-artist would undoubtedly see through my act.
This was the valiant explanation I gave my MIL, while she looked at me dumb-founded as I hustled about setting the stage before the entry of my reigning Goddess. I rolled up the carpets, soaked and sorted the clothes, carefully arranged the chai-nashta, neatly stacked the vessels to be washed, spoons separated, Sarita did not appreciate an over-brimming sink!
My MIL looked askance heavenwards and silently retired hurt!!

Read next >> Chapter 2

Note: All characters in the Of Bais Gone by - Saga series are fictional. The situations however are inspired from real life. Any resemblance to any character, living or dead is purely coincidental and unintentional.

Copyright © 2015 KALA RAVI


  1. Very Wodehousish in render and absolutely hilarious
    Great one Kala

    1. Thnx dear,I am indeed honoured by the comparison!!

  2. You have wriiten a classic one . Loved it . Kala it's time to write a book now . Would love to read . Mast hai . Best

  3. Very good reading Kala
    Keep it coming

  4. Brilliantly written...thoroughly enjoyable...Kala, you are a gifted writer...keep it up...

    1. Thanks I know for sure who Im thanking!!!

  5. Hi Kala,

    So glad to have come across your blog, and "met" a fellow Mumbaikar. I can totally relate to this, as I have lived this through my Mom, while in Mumbai. However, post-marriage, I moved to US, where Bai is an extinct species, so I am thoroughly enjoying reading this. :)


    1. Hi Shantala,
      Thanks for the lovely words. Yes the bai-saga is a Mumbai thing and the 'outpourings heartfelt'!

  6. Hahahahaha! Loved reading this :) Hilarious :D

  7. One of your absolute best Kala, This is a masterpiece really. YOU MUST DOCUMENT THESE IN A BOOK! So hilarious. Yada yada hi dharmasya :D


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