Maid-less in Karachi and living to tell the tale.

Considering I’m a room-less nomad in my own house, as well as being a maid-less anomaly, I never thought I’d be sitting propped on pillows with a steaming mug of tea, in a corner of our workroom/home office, and actually feeling content, happy and cosy. With time to spare to write a new post.

What?! (I hear you exclaim) No maid??

Yes, dear readers. Zahooran, my erstwhile maid has absconded and I am left without a replacement in sight. And before you shake your head in wonder and despair at my plight, (hey! that rhymes!) allow me to explain the reason for my happiness and well-being, and also to elaborate on the reason for the existence of three platefuls of the yummiest lasagna ever in my tummy, even as my bathroom gets renovated and masons and plumbers traipse in and out all day. Which is why I’m a room-less nomad living out of a suitcase. Just kidding, there’s no suitcase.

It all transpired in December, when Zahooran tentatively broached the subject of going back to her village in Punjab. I was surprised, as I was under the impression that she liked being in Karachi, which represented a source of livelihood and a way to be independent, away from her religious, shrine-frequenting husband who worked as a hired labourer back home, where employment was scarce and life was difficult. She also spoke of querulous interfering relatives and family ties rife with gossip and slander, something she abhorred and was grateful to get away from.

She shared living quarters with her niece Shehnaz, who also happened to be her sister-in-law (married to her husband’s younger brother), and whose third child Zahooran had adopted as her own, being childless herself. Shehnaz had been married at the age of 14 to a man twice her age and by 22 had reproduced 4 times, had at least two abortions, and God knows how many miscarriages. I knew this because Shehnaz used to work for me before she had a gallbladder operation that rendered her unfit for strenuous work. It was she who brought along her aunt/sister-in-law Zahooran as a replacement, fresh from the village, ungroomed in her behaviour, and untrained in the art and delicacy of keeping a house clean without disturbing the ecosystem of the inhabitants.

The first day she came to work as an assistant to Shehnaz, I didn’t feel entirely comfortable in her presence and wasn’t particularly pleased with her method of working, and so I told Shehnaz not to bring her back the next day. But Zahooran turned up again. And again. I realise now that she insinuated herself into the household by degrees and whatever protests I had remained muted until there was no way I could fire her without hurting her feelings. Her work improved with hints and gentle rebukes (I’m no tyrannical mistress) but I was happier staying out of her hair while she worked, and so did Huz and Amu. She had a way of moving furniture and rolling up rugs to sweep in such a way that we were forced to always be sidestepping or jumping over things in our little apartment, which made for a very edgy three hours, the duration of her cleaning spree.

Her job was simple. The first thing she did when she came was wash the dishes and clean up the kitchen. Then she proceeded to sweep the whole house, vacuuming carpets and rugs, after which she would clean the bathrooms and dust the furniture on alternate days, finishing up with mopping the un-carpeted areas of the house. As if this wasn’t enough, she walked over to another house down the road where she repeated the process, then probably bone-weary, walked back home to tend to her own washing, cleaning and cooking. She went to bed early after getting a solicitous massage by her son Tayyeb, whom she asked to walk on her back to relieve the stresses of being bent over most of the day. She loves her son dearly, and the primary goal in her life is to work hard and earn so she can educate him.

When I said Zahooran was ‘ungroomed’, I didn’t mean she was badly dressed or uncaring of personal hygiene. She wore clean clothes and didn’t have b.o. But she did have a few habits that completely grossed out our finer sensibilities, though I was more forgiving perhaps than Huz and Amu. Dust, for example, is an inevitable part of housework and can make the best of us have a sneezing fit. Zahooran’s problem was….she didn’t cover her face when she did so. Yes, I know. Not nice. Hence, Amu hated having her room cleaned because she hated the idea of Zahooran germs everywhere.

Another thing that drove us all a bit crazy was her complete disregard for personal space, often standing too close for comfort while conversing. She didn’t believe in knocking before entering a bedroom either. But that was one of the few things I could tell her off about without getting personal. Just because she’s a maid doesn’t mean I can hurt her feelings. Though I think I must have hurt them a bit when I asked her not to hug and kiss members of my family when they dropped in for a visit. Maids in Karachi are just NOT supposed to do that. There are unwritten rules! But Zahooran was from a different place, and unschooled in the manners of employee behaviour.

Every neighbour I recommended Zahooran to couldn’t tolerate her beyond a couple of weeks, and I’m sure they’re mystified at my reasons for hanging on to her for two years., but my reasons were simple. (a) She was honest. I could leave the house to her without locking anything and not be scared she would steal something.  (b) She was polite, and hard-working, and never refused an additional chore once in a while. (c) she left the house looking shiny. Every day. And (d)….she was essentially a kind, caring, generous, affectionate soul. She always walked out the door with a muttered prayer for my safety, happiness and well-being. (Allah aabaad, shaad rakhey)

So even though she irritated me and bugged the hell out of Huz and Amu, I couldn’t fire her. Plus, I knew my house was like a getaway for her, an escape from the squalor and cramped environs of Neelum Colony, a place where for three peaceful hours she could forget about her worries and immerse herself in work, something she claimed was one thing she wasn’t afraid of. Give her work, and she was happy. How could I possibly take that away from her?

Perhaps then it was fortuitous that her husband put his foot down and demanded she come back to him and take care of his needs. He was tired of living wife-less for so long and missed having his own woman to cook his food and wash his clothes. And then, she had also saved up enough to get a meter installed in her house, and the idea of finally having electricity, a real luxury, galvanised her. So Zahooran had to go, and she planned to catch the bus on the 2nd day of the New year and make the 22-hour long, arduous and uncomfortable journey back home in the bitterly cold and foggy plains, having packed all her meagre belongings and two new shawls (my gift to her) …and a used ‘new’ cell phone.

The replacement she arranged for me turned out to be a bull of a woman, hefty and rough-looking where Zahooran was petite and bird-like. I took one look at her and immediately thought of ways to dissuade her from coming, telling her essentially, ‘don’t call me, I’LL call you’. And that was that. Couldn’t exactly employ someone who gave the impression she’d eat me alive, first opportunity she got!

So, it has now been three weeks that I have been maid-less, which basically means I spend too much time OCD-ing about cleaning the house rather than blogging. I know you will understand, dear avid readers of my blog. But you should know I am neglecting my kitchen and NOT vacuuming the workroom/office even as we speak, just so I can break out of my blog inertia. It’s a big deal, okay?

But before you go feeling sorry for me, here’s a little bit of exciting news. I may not have a maid, but guess what? Yours truly has found herself a cook!!

So now at least I don’t have to worry about putting food on the table, and can merrily go about doing the housework, exhaust myself for a couple of hours every day, but smile with anticipation at the thought of a kindly elf coming to my house in the evening. All I must do is think up something yum to eat, issue a whimsical order, make sure the essentials are present in the kitchen cupboards, and voila! An hour later, there are magical pots of steaming food, and the house is engulfed in delectable aromas. Oh yes. Heaven IS a place right here on this very earth, and it exists in Munira’s bubble.

And there’s lasagna.