Yesterday’s post, In the Name of God! Part I, was about a popular self-appointed “God man” in India who was finally brought to justice for rape 15 years after he was charged. Anarchy followed the conviction.
The civil unrest delayed our arrival in Chandigarh, which was under lockdown to restrict the violence. Nevertheless, every dark cloud has a silver lining. Ours was that the roads were still empty when we left Delhi. We made the trip in four hours instead of the usual five plus.
The sleazebag guru getting his comeuppance combined with the safest and quickest journey to Chandigarh on record led this agnostic to think that there must be a God after all. What happened next confirms it.
The title of Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s 1975 Booker Prize winning novel, Heat and Dust, is what India is all about; it’s hot everywhere in summer and dusty all year round. The summers are also hot where Kuldip and I live in Australia’s north. Dust exists there too, but it’s manageable. For instance, I get by dusting once a week in Queensland whereas it’s a daily must-do in India.
Imagine, therefore, the mess we arrived home to in Chandigarh after a 12-month absence. We cover the furniture before we leave, but to paint a word picture of the state of every exposed indoor and outdoor surface is beyond my literary capability. The mugginess of the monsoon makes it messier; it turns fine dust into gritty dirt.
We got home to the apartment in our gated community mid-afternoon on a Saturday. First things first: ‘hose’ down the kitchen, clean the master bedroom and ensuite and hit the sack. I did not sleep well. I dreaded the hard yards we had to put in the following day.
Early next morning a cleaner knocked on the door looking for work. It was Sunday, which is the only day India’s workforce has off per week. Opportunity knocks but once; she didn’t have to ask twice. Neither did we.
Kuldip and I wondered how she found out so quickly that we were back. When I told an Indian girlfriend, Sonia, about it, she said: “The security guards would have told her. They have nothing to do all day but gossip about the activities of the residents.”
The cleaners I have had in India in the past have been young women, girls really, who, in my experience, are more bad news than good. This woman, however, was of a mature age and, unlike her predecessors, ‘Madam’ did a thorough job, and she did it willingly.
Kuldip and I pitched in, and within two hours the unit was fit for human consumption once more. Madam insisted on doing the ‘heavy’ work such as washing the floors and cleaning the intricate, dirt-coated iron lacework and ceramic floors on each of the four balconies in the sticky 35-degree heat.
After she’d finished, Madam told us that she was the mother of Manisha who cleaned for us the year before. I asked Kuldip to interpret that I would rather do the cleaning myself than have her daughter back. She said not to worry and that she would come instead of her daughter.
Madam’s connection to our previous cleaner made me realise that there is a code of ethics among the domestic help. That is that a family retains the piece of business for as long as they want it. While house cleaning is big business in India, I’m glad it’s not dog-eat-dog. Even though all of my previous cleaners have stressed me out, I have always treated them with respect. It’s good to know that they respect one another’s territory too.
India is full of empty promises. The next day, for example, instead of honouring her agreement to do the work herself, Madam sent her daughter Manisha to do it. I was unimpressed. While her mother is heaven-sent, Manisha didn’t have a chance in hell of getting the work. Kuldip explained to Manisha why she was not invited in and told her to send her mum, which she dutifully did.
Since then, Madam has not only turned up each day; she’s turned up on time. Punctuality is a rare commodity in India where time is immaterial.
Unlike my other cleaners, I look forward to Madam’s arrival at around 9.00 a.m. for her one-hour visit, six days a week. She’s a delightfully genteel woman, and it’s a pleasure to welcome her into our home.
She’s a godsend and the second sign in as many days that there is a God after all.