Domestic Markets

Back at home like most Indian households we use domestic help. At most times particularly this time around, I am very glad we do despite the notion of ‘enslavement’, ‘caste’ and ‘menial work’ like-minded people attach to it. At some level it seems like the dignity of an individual is at stake- why wash someone else’s dirty linen? Add pay to it- and the the question of livelihood comes along. Washing dirty linen is better than begging.

My maid told me this story of her life. Her late husband and she were tea plantation workers at the rich tea estates of ‘munnar’. At one point they even had a car. Then the husband died- mother and then adolescent son moved to Chennai. She lent all her life’s savings to this son of hers. One day he asked her ‘what proof have you, that this money was given to me by you?’, my maid left the house. Her son is our neighbour- he lives in a rather upper-class independent house on the seaside, his mother works in the same locality washing floors, cooking and such for neighbours. They don’t talk anymore.

Three things struck me at this point: 1) What kind of a son was this? The wrong side of self-interest? 2) Extraodinarily resilient lady this and 3) How does one enforce contracts in a family?

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