Saturday, August 15, 2009

A Cup For The Maid

Last month I finished reading 'A toss of a lemon' by Padma Vishwanathan.

It is an epic family drama that spans from 1892 to the 1950s. It is the story of a Tamil Brahmin woman who got married at age 10 and was widowed at age 18. Though I found the novel monotonous at times, it offered me a peep into a world that I would not have explored otherwise.

The book at times almost celebrated the Brahminical way of life and heightened the community's superiority over the other castes in British India. Reading it, I could not help draw comparisons with the social structure prevailing in Bengal at the same time. The caste structure was not as rigid in Bengal due to the tireless efforts of reformers like Raja RamMohan Roy, Vidyasagar and Vivekananda and the Brahmo Samaj. I could not help feeling a bit triumphant over my state's progress into modernism at that time.

Casually discussing this issue with a Bengali friend and revelling in our progress, I happened to go to her kitchen for a glass of water and could not help noticing something. A separate cup kept for the maid.

This was a common practise in most Indian families. My joint family house in Kolkata, where Iwas born, there were separate plates, glasses, cups kept for the family help. The help were treated with respect. They were paid well and every basic amenities were provided for. But the servants did not sit on our beds or sofas, did not use our bathrooms and always drank tea from separate cups kept specially for them.

In Delhi, where I grew up, things were not much different. The domestic workers were more professional and paid better their their Bengali counterparts. They demanded a lot more privileges. Holidays every month. School bags and shoes for their children. New clothes every festivals, but they knew that when they drank tea, they would have to drink from a cup meant for them. And they would have to sit on the floor if they wanted to rest for a while.

Was this casteism? Perhaps not. Even if they were Brahmins, there would have been separate utensils for them. It was more likely discrimination based on their economic status. Most families thought being poor meant poor hygeine. They were also subtly reminded of their economic status...apni aukat mein raho...was almost a catch phrase.

Years later, when I bacame a mother, I kept a girl to look after my first born. She would bathe my child, feed her, take her to the park. She loved my daughter selflessly and took very good care of her. She had almost become a part of my family. One day, I found my daughter sharing her food with her. Later when I reprimanded my daughter for doing that, my wise three year old said, " If didi is good enough to feed me, she is good enough to eat from my plate."

I was stunned. I never expected my daughter to pick up this very glaring case of discrimination being practised in a middle class, educated household. It was such a profound statement coming from a small girl. I was so disturbed by her blatant and harsh statement that it took me quite a while to recover. I felt my daughter was accusing me of being unfair and a snob. I felt small and demeaned. I was deeply hurt. May be because I knew it was all true. A few days later, I threw the cup and the plates I had kept for her. Afterwards, I felt immensely relieved. I felt I could finally practic what I preached her. When I told her I did not discriminate on the basis of caste or economic status, it would not be an empty statement. It was a major load off my chest.

But I know, even now, many educated, well read Indians, who take pride in the Constitution that proclaims that India is a Sovereign, Socialist, Secular Democratic, Republic and there are Justice, Liberty, Equality and Fraternity for all, do not really adhere to these beliefs. They pay their maids handsome salary to look after their children, give them expensive Diwali gifts, buy them cell phones to call their homes. But they deny them basic human dignity. They bar them from sitting on their sofas and their beds. And they keep a separate cup for them at home for their tea.

On my country's 63rd Independence Day, I wonder, how many more years it will take for us to achieve our real freedom.

Freedom from discrimination. Freedom from prejudices. Freedom from inequality. And the freedom to share our love with our own people.

Jai Hind.


Sucharita Sarkar said...

Although in my children often eat off the maid's plate along with her (they wouldn't listen otherwise) and she sits on the sofa, etc (she wouldn't listen otherwise), i have often been reprimanded by my 'progressive' relations and friends for being too lax.

This is one 'cup' that needs to be broken. It is time.

ZB said...

humm, i too can name several instances. We used to have seperate glases, plates etc....but again it was more for hygiene rather than class or caste.

BTW its the 63rd independence day, and 62 years since independence. :))

AnjuGandhi said...

very nice post aparna
i have seen the same thing in very educated, emancipated, progressive people. funny part is when taking the maid servant along then they will sit in the same rickshaw, car but when back to home the discrimnation again starts. we only speak of freedom and equality but we dont practice it.

Gayathri said...

very nice post..i could relate to every single word u being a brahmin myself,i have seen such discrimination at home..servant would be fed only after everyone had the food,and the males wouldnt feed on something which was even tasted by the maid..same,separate cups and plates for the servant,separate soap and mat if she stayed at home..
but i guess things are thawing coz i dont see this practice among my generation..but i sometimes feel,when we are young we refrain from all those practices..but as we grow old,the age old caste-ism superiority and discrimination resurfaces..
Happy independence day :)

anamika said...

When ever i go to malls and see a maid of age of between 10-14 yrs i s hired to keep the parents baby.I feel sad for these kids.Imagine a kid is hired to take care of the kid.
My parents have a child of age 10-12.As my parents live alone they cant keep a young lad sue to insecurity.To pacify my guilt i keep giving the child books and teach him some time or ask his education progress.But do u think its fair.

This discrimination of a cup of tea will end when we Indians like other countries start doing our work our selves.As these people doesn't come at such meager price there chances of disparity are pretty slim.

Also Aparna you are one year ahead of Independence:D .
As usual i really adore your post.:)
Keep writing:)

SJ said...

Hmmm.... I don't know what to say! My mom keeps a separate cup for the maid, she stitches blouses for the maid and does other things but yes there is a separate cup meant for the maid. I never thought about this until now!!! Knowing my mom I am aassuming this is for hygiene purpose but one can always wash it with soap & water..hmmm must ask her that next time!

ha! you are talking abt maid and cups, one of my friend's mom doesn't allow non-bramins to enter her kitchen! It is SO embarrassing for the friend. Some people will never change esp the older generation.

Sakshi said...

I think we all have seen this discrimination to the people who keep our homes clean, cook and do all the rest of household chores. It had baffled me quiet a lot too while growing up but my mother was a person who didn't keep a separate cup for the maids. She always told me that the parents of these maids sent them to us hoping that they would have a better life and as these maids are helping us to enjoy our lives we need to make sure they get all that we can give them. I was proud of my mom for this but there are certain things that these maids never got and that feeling always made me sick.

Hey on another note What kind of discrimination is it when foreigners refuse to share lunch boxes with us? I have a few foreign friends who digs into my home made lunch but yet there are some who is scared to pick up a pizza slice from a Pizza Hut box? Well I usually don't care and grab a few slices while those people say they are not hungry :)

Sakshi said...

See I read your post even on a Saturday and comment. Wondering how I did it? well the police officer is in the bathroom. I plan my moves very well ;)

sujata sengupta said...

A separate cup for the maid is a practise that is definitely against hygiene and not against caste, in our minds we relate economic status to hygiene, and moreover the helps do not just cook and clean in one house, so I agree to this to an extent. When my second born was a kid in Pune we had a 18 yr old who stayed the day with us, she had a set of clothes which she changed into once she was with us. She was also asked to take a bath, after that she was free to do as she pleased, no separate cups or dishes, but yes, Hygiene is very important to me esp with babies around. Happy Independence Day!!

Nona said...

Nice post. But isn't it hygienic to another set of utensils?

The Panorama said...

Good post, Aparna. I have thought on similar lines too. It is time we remove this ugly practice of separate cups and plates for servants.

Anonymous said...

I suppose we're selectively accountable.

They sit on stools in the kitchen, that we sit on if we're in the kitchen. They sit on the same couches as we do, if they're watching TV in the study.

But yes, separate set of cups, glasses and plates for them to eat from. Call it discrimination, but as most have said, we'd call it hygiene. If they were to show excellent hygiene standards (no funny body odours, kept his room more aired and cleaner) I wouldn't be opposed to eating out of the same plate... He does cook my food after all!

Kavi said...

I love the way you engage with a touchy subject !

Well, its been the case for many generations. But one, that this generation is consciously breaking. For at home, we dont have separate utensils for them.

And yet, i have seen it all happen ! And i know very well, that it still is practiced in a large majority of the population. This cup needs to be broken. Indeed.

Anonymous said...

If you have a spare bedroom, would you let her sleep on the bed too with the kids? Would you let her share the same soap as the kids? You wouldn't right? Its hygiene and not discrimination. And considering the fact, if she can feed me why can't she eat off my plate, I wouldn't know. I never let anyone outside my family feed my kids. About cooking food and keeping the house clean. Its their job, and you pay them for it. Even in offices you have separate cups for everyone. Nobody uses the same cup. Its all about hygiene.

nsiyer said...

I, for one, see it has no discrimination. As long as you respect the individual and his/her dignity, give her the comfort, look after her and her family needs when she requires the most - it is perfectly fine. Allowing her to use the same cup need not be seen as ' no discrimination exists' , if one falters on all other counts. I see this as where you draw the line, and also respecting her own ways of living and her space.She may want a cup for herself - so what.

G S Pillai said...

Listen to the children. They are our only hope. Beautifully written.

Aparna said...

@ Sucharita, I never had a live-in maid, so i really do not know how I would react under certain circumstances. I am trying really hard to figure out what is my role in all this.

ZB, error noted and rectified.

@ Anju Gandhi, I have met many such people and I always wonder about their mentality. I do know that preaching and practicing are 2 completely different things.

@ Gayatri, I have a lot of hope from our youth. I know they will take the country forward.

@ Anamika, regarding the year, ZB had correctly pointed out that this is our 63rd Independence day if you count 15 Aug 1947 as the 1st Independence day. So I corrected the error.
You are doing good by taking charge of the boy's education. Though it is sad that some children have to work at such a young age to earn a living. Really unfair.

@ SJ, as you can see from the comments, most people think it is a hygiene issue. I am trying to find out if there is also some discrimination to it.

@ Sakshi, you have a wise mom. Judging from the comments I am getting, I am wondering if it really is solely a hygiene issue.
No respect for law enforcement officers? Tsk-tsk.

@ Sujata, I honestly wonder looking at some people I know whether they only have hygiene on their mind. Sometimes it pains me when I see their actions.

@ Nona, is hygiene the only issue? Thats what I am trying to figure out.

@ Panorama, thank you. As you can see from the comments, most feel it is hygienic to maintain separate utensils. I am for the removal of all the practices which go against basic human dignity.

@ Unsungpsalm, body odour? Yuck. I am with you about the hygiene part. But if it is about any class or caste discrimination, then I feel it is totally uncalled for.

@ Kavi, I do not know whether the cup will ever be broken Kavi. Judging from the responses, I think most people are happy with the status quo.

@ Jyothi, a lot of Indian women have 24 hour help specially when they are working. These maids end up bathing/ cleaning/ feeding the children. Since most of them live at home, the hygiene issue to a lot extent is taken care of.I understand about separate beds, soaps combs etc. But I feel we also deny them some basic dignity by barring them from sitting on the couch and giving them separate tea cups. When I eat in a restaurant, do I really know who has eaten from that plate? In my house at least I know the cups and plates have been washed well with the best of soap available.

@ Nsiyer, I am also talking about basic human dignity sir.When I disallow my maid from using my sofa, am I not hurting her dignity? I have no issues when it comes to hygiene, I know most of the poor people in India have very poor concept of sanitation. It is perfectly acceptable to demand a certain standard of hygiene from our maid or nanny. But making them sit on the floor? Keeping a separate water bottle for them? That I do not agree with.

ani_aset said...

superb aparna..very apt moment to bring this up
i have stayed outside for like 5 years now, and we have kept servants to work for us..But never have we discriminated like this, and i have hope from this generation, my generation that we will stop this

Gymnast said...

The reason for this i feel is the severe stratification of the society. There is too much of a gap between the rich and the poor , economically , intellectually , culturally....everything.

And when there exists this huge gap with someone , you cannot connect.

If i ask my maid to come and sit with me , she will refuse. Thats because she simple cannot connect with me.

There is too much of a difference between us.

Its not so easy to break this social divide.

NR said...

This type of honest post can only come from u Aparna. Your daughter was so correct and she in a way had such a valid point that even highly educated and experienced people cant even come close to that wise thinking. You have an enlightened angel and you brought the change in u!!
These things still exists in most of the Indian houses n its mainly because of the economic status of that person.
Very nice post !!

Smitha said...

I have seen this in practice in a few of my friends places.. And you know what, it is so accepted that they donot even realise that there is something wrong with it..

As you say, we will truly get independence only when everbody in India is able to lead a life of dignity. Wonderful post!

Ire said...

I think this exists everywhere. Read The color purple by Alice Walker.

My grandma told us tales of how non Brahmin's coming into their home would use different vessels and so was for the maids. My home too there are separate vessels.

Maybe it's time, things should change now!

SJ said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
SJ said...

Nikki, The colour purple tells of something that happened in the 30s I think. Its a pretty old book. And racial discrimination was banned in early 1970s, now they have a black president and they arrest people who engage in racial discrimination. Some RJ passed a racial slur and was kicked out of the station. IN just 30 years they have achieved so much.

We don't have law like that (or even if we I don't see it being applied), from the comments itself you can see how biased we still are.

Anonymous said...

What moved me is the fact that you have a great sense of self awareness, which is rare. Normally we tend to defend ourselves for our actions by giving lot of excuses and blaming it on generations, parents etc.. but seems to me that you have owned up to your actions. You don' t need me to tell what a great post...


SJ said...

My dear Aparna, I showed someone your post and went to make tea, when I returned he was writing a comment. The anon above is my husband :D

No gun was used in this process!!!

ZB said...

on second thought, yes we have so many cases of caste-ism and class-ism and your example is valid. I have so many examples in my own family.

My parents still call others by their caste. I remember my grand mother telling us not to eat anything when we went to marriages of lower caste.

But comparing our system to west doesnt really make sense, especially the US of A.

They were racial. We were racial but apart from that we were also much more than racial. We had class and caste inside the same race.

Nice post. Your concern for the society makes me believe that you are true patriotic, and being cynical when one needs to, is the true signs of patriotism. TC

pradipwritenow said...

Aparna, Please forgive me for my comments if they become too harsh please remove my comments if they deserve so.
Castism: The seperation of caste was on the basis of inborne mental quality and the professsion. Now many so called Bramhins do not know who Manu was and what are the five latent mental quality which were polished starting from the age of eleven years to be confirmed as Bramhin and others as Khatriya etc. Now every body does Sewing shoes to Chandipath. So basis of castism should be eliminated now.
Hygenic point of view: The way you keep seperate toothbrushes for every member of the House there should be seperate utensils for eveybody including your house help.And after every use this should be sanitised.But we must remmber every living soul is bestowed with defense mechanisms so that contaminable disease attack so easily.Nobody should occupy the sofa etc if she or he is not clean at that moment or having some contaminable disease. This is true for your honarable guests as well as the helping hands. No discrimanation should be made for the member of the house and the helping hand. I remmber that notice in old British- owned clubs"dogs and Indians are not allowed here." Discrimination on the basis of race, caste or domestic help is not good in my sense.

Anonymous said...

Good Point about the restaurant plates. But going or not going to a restaurant is a choice. But having you maid sit on your couch along with your family while you watch TV late in the evenings, is not something that I would like very much. But otherwise, I don't think the sofa set will get contaminated. Its her mind that will.

Working moms having 24 hours maid at home, is an experience that I have seen my sister go through. The maid used to feed the child cough syrup in high dose so that he would sleep and she could do her work in peace. My sis being at work, was unaware till my nephew fell sick.

By the way, how many of you have actually sat in your CEO's chairs? Or drank from the same tea set that he does from? Is that discrimination based on economic status? Its protocol.I think its the same here. Its a job...He/she is not your family and will never be.

Shouldn't such jobs be eliminated completely to get freedom from prejudice and inequality and love for own people(provided they are clean)?

(Sorry for the long comment)

The Panorama said...

I think the poor hygiene is just an excuse. A guest that comes to your house could be bringing all sorts of germs with him/ her. Many simply dabble a lot of perfume to smell clean and good!!!
It is just our inborn mentality that the poor must be filthy and unhygenic. My maid here looks cuter than me and I would never dream of treating her as anyone less equal.
It is our attitude we need to change.

The Panorama said...

Jyothi, reading your comment I feel, it is rather an issue of finding somebody trustworthy to take care of your kids. But many have a good maid who would not treat the children the way your sisters maid did. Still, I don't buy the argument.
But that is just my opinion:)

pradipwritenow said...

Jyothi ji: a house and a office are two different things having defined levels of decorum. In many offices it is the chair which signifies the person. More you become homely to your helps they reciprocate in the same way. Why the house dog greets you when you arrive? because you care for him/her. If you start discriminating they have feel of hurt in their mind. My Gorkha friend who remained with me for the last 30 years because we treated him as our family member, not as my field body guard or driver. I changed my organisations because of rise in position but he remained with me. He saved my life twice, risked his life to save my son from snake bite. All he did as a part of our family member. If you treat your helping hands as part of your family members they shall reciprocate in the same way. The animals do it for us so why not a human when he is treated with the same honor as for the rest of the famiuly members.

के सी said...

अपर्णा जी, सच में जय हिंद कहने योग्य पोस्ट लिखी है, विषय बहुत गंभीर है जिसमे आपने अतिशयोक्ति से बचते हुए कुछ दिल को बड़ा रखा है. इन दिनों तमिल कहानियों का हिंदी संकलन पढ़ रहा था तो ब्राहमण और अन्य के बीच बंटे हुए सामाजिक जीवन की झलक मन में शब्दों के माध्यम से बसी हुई है. इसे सिर्फ एक क्षेत्र अथवा राज्य के सन्दर्भ तक सीमित नहीं माना जा सकता हम भी जातिगत स्तर पर बहुत भेद पले हुए हैं आपको तो मालूम ही होगा कि राजस्थान की कुछ आदिवासी जातियां भी एक वर्ण में ऊँच नीच का भेदभाव करती हैं . सवाल आपकी समझदार बिटिया ने जो उठाया था वहीं से कुछ आशाएं जागती हैं कि जिसके हाथ से खा सकते हैं उसको खिला भी सकते हैं. उस नन्ही परी को मेरा अभिवादन कहना.
मैंने अपने ब्लॉग पर उचित परिवर्तन कर लिए हैं. एक आत्मीय संवाद स्थापित करने के लिए आपका आभार.

Aparna said...

@ Bluebird, thank you very much. I appreciate it.

@ Ani-aset, thanks buddy.I too have very high hopes from the young generation. India has changed a lot in the last 20 years, I know it will change a lot more in the coming years...and hopefully for the better.

@ Gymnast, if there is a vast difference between our maids and us, it is because we have created it. It is also our responsibilty to bridge this gap. It is a difficult task, but not impossible. Let me again say that I am not talking about health, hygiene and sanitation. I am talking about basic human dignity.

@ Nazish, thank you. My children have been my teachers and have helped me to deal with my prejudices so often. I always want to be their role model, so always try to do the right thing. But it is so damned hard.

@ Smita, thank you. Most of us have been doing this without thinking that there could be anything wrong in this practice. We just follow what our parents have taught us.

@ Nikki, I have read the Color Purple. Though it talks about class divide, it is actually about the position of women in a racist Georgia in the '30s. Things have since then changed a lot. America has moved forward. There are very stringent anti racism laws there. Do we really have anything so stringent here? Discrimination in any form is bad. I sincerely hope we Indians recognize the flaws in our society and rectify them .

@ J, thank you and welcome to my blog. From the comments you can see that a lot of readers are not really convinced i did the right thing.

@ SJ, are you sure you did not point the gun?

@ ZB, we are a racist and a casteist society. We are also scared of change. We like to stay within our comfort zone and feel secure. But I have really high hopes from the young generation and feel in another 20 years, we will see a more vibrant and tolerant India. Thank you for your second thoughts.

@ Pradeepda, I agree, most of us are not aware of the reasons why th e vedic society was divided into castes. The caste was never supposed to be hereditary and it was just supposed to be like division of labour. But unfortunately, the meaning took a grotesque form.The modern meaning has no place in today's society.
The debate was not on hygiene,it was on discrimination and human dignity. We do have individual toothbrushes, but we do not have separate cups for our tea. My only point is that according to our Constitution, every citizen should have social, political and economic justice. Every individual should be treated with dignity.

@ Jyothi, I really appreciate your candid thoughts on this debate. Today, for the first time, I realized the real meaning of blogging.This is such a great medium for exchanging of ideas. I am so glad I started writing.
About your sisters maid, it is truly unfortunate. I have heard about such cases, but i have also heard about maids who have really taken very good care of the child.I may not want to watch TV with my maid, but I have no issues if she watches TV sitting on my couch. I do not like to see anyone sitting on floors just because he/she comes from a different strata of society.
Regarding sitting on the boss's chair, there are some people who command immense respect because they do not observe such protocols.they are popular and people love to work under them and strive to emulate them. I know because my husband had one such boss and till today my husband tries to be like him.

@ Panorama, I truly understand what you mean.Our attitude needs to change regarding a lot of things.

@ Pradeepda, every human being responds to love, respect and care. You are indeed lucky to have such an able assistant with you.
Thank you so much for contributing to this discussion.

BK Chowla, said...

Separate cups /glass and plates for the maids is very common in Delhi and Mumbai.I think it is only mind set.WQe eat food made by her but want her to use separate dishes.I am personally not in favour of this and we at home do not have this practice,in fact I am against this.

Anonymous said...

Sorry Aparna I am addressing some of the queries to my comment if you don't mind.

@The Panaroma - I agree you need to find a trustworthy person. This person was with the brother in laws family for atleast 7 years before that. She was treated just like family at home. So when my sis got married, she was transported there. My sis treated her like a mother. Hence, the ill feeling I have towards maids in general.

@Pradeep ji -I don't compare humans to dogs, however faithful they seem. On one hand everyone says you give maid all the money, luxury, school fees, and benefits. And on the other hand you say its different from office? How is that? Its a job, they want it to be treated like a job.Thats equality for me. Or dignity of labour, if you want to put it that way.

@Aparna - It feels good to debate. Haven't done that in a long time. Its good to blog. I may sound like a Feudalistic Zamindar kinds to people here. But its not so, I had a live in maid for a few months recently. I never stopped her from watching TV or never stopped her from sitting on the sofa. She has never asked. Maybe she does when no one's home. But along with family and me...its a no no....its more to do with family privacy than anything else....I never told her to use separate glasses or plates. But after a few weeks , I noticed that she was using separate ones. I didn't go to change that. It could be that she doesn't want to use the same things as us dirty people..:)

Sandhya said...

Aparna, very good discussions are going on here! Yes, this blogworld is really good, in many ways!

This habit of keeping a cup aside for the maid...this method had been followed for the past so many years and now as far as I know, we are not so bad, compared to our mother's generation, I feel. Until we were in our hometown, we followed so many methods to keep the servants outside the house and separate. Now everyone is coming inside the kitchen, clean the stoves even.

Our driver sits on the dining table with us and eats with us. But even after 13 years with us, he is not comfortable to sit and eat with us. He seems to eat less, in front of us. Asking them to sit alongwith us on the sofa and at home...don't know...I have never thought about it or maybe we may not want to think about it. Maybe my children will do that.

This is a good topic for discussion and you have presented it very well, Aparna, as usual.

Apanatva said...

i am so happy i never had that one cup or separate plate concept in my house.for me servants are like family but sitting on sofa?my maid refuges to eat in the kitchen,she takes her plate to utility area.Its their mindset.state to state their temperament differs.
I still remember when i was in b bay,cuffeparade,
(30) yrs back our flat had servant qtr attached to it
and i decided to have a full time servant since i had two small kids to take care of.but the demand list had put me off
1 three times tea
2 both times hot water (for bath )
3 extra pkt money for pan tambakhoo
4 afternoon rest (2 hours)
5 permission to go down and meet her friends.
I really had tough time in cuffe parade

SG said...

Superb post. I agree 100% with you.

Even today, in some rare instances, the servants do not want to change and carry on with the way they were treated. Couple of years ago, when I was visiting India, my aunt died in the village. I went there for the funeral. The son of a servant who worked in my uncle’s paddy fields also came for the funeral. Even though my cousins asked him to sit on the sofa, he refused. He stood outside the house until the funeral services were over and left. I was told he was the President of the Bar Association in the nearby big city.

Mohan said...

After going through all these comments I have nothing new to say... except - Happy Independence Day!

Neha said...

the separate plate, glass and cup concept we followed at my mum's place...but here at my in law's, we do not have such a thing...our maid uses our utensils and they are ok with it..probably because she has been with the family for last 22 years, so she is a part of us..I found it strange initially, but now I only serve her food, and don't mind it anymore..

and ur daughter's incident reminded me one mum told me bro used to eat from our maid's plate because he found that place very amusing as it was different from others..

I loved the honesty behind this post.. :)

Mustaf said...

After going through your post and the comments, I had lot to say about some of the opinion expressed here, but that will make my comment too long and ethically also, I don't think I have the right to express my opinion to other's comments in your post, so I will put my focus on your post only :-)

Actually i believe hygiene and mental block are equally responsible for this discrimination.One one side, we can't control the basic hygiene the maid follows (even if they are staying at house)so, keeping separate soap, shampoo for them or not letting them sitting on our bed make sense. But that does not apply for things like separate cup/plate.Because, logically we clean everything after our lunch/dinner so there is no harm for us if we use the same cup, and that too keep in mind that it is she who is cleaning the utensils.But then if they are cleaning our utensils, there is no logic as why they can't sit/sleep in the same bed/sofa, I am confused :-(

And the position you are in today is one of the tough position keeping in mind how you handle your daughter's innocent questions. I really have don't answers for that :-(

R. Ramesh said...

thanks for yr kind msg..Ap..

Suchismita said...

hi aparna, very apt and thought provoking post. The good thing is the current crop of youngsters seem to be blurring these lines of division that were so glaring in my childhood. Every generation has come along a bit further, I think. After all, prejudices get eroded gradually.It should happen at a faster pace. For now atleast let each one who is exposed to such thoughts make the first move. More power to such thoughts!!

angel in disguise.... said...

oh..that was a really touchy had so many things to say n u conveyed it all! cheers!
independence was long attained..but der r some shackles to b broken ...which i hope will b shattered very soon!..i end on that positive note!

Sumandebray said...

This social evil as described by you has been very much a part of our history. Particularly among the Hindus and might have been carried over to other religion when they joined another religion. I would tend to believe that at the time it came into effect there was a genuine hygiene issue which probably does not exist anymore, not in the cities as we live in. We know that things were not that way always, not everyone could afford soaps and detergent in those time and nor was it so easily available.
Traditionally our civilization has a different approach towards hygiene. One example is that we prefer to use water for cleansing rather than just wiping it off. Both while taking in food or getting it out the next morning. (I am referring to Bengal and not some other place where they have a “lota” conference every morning). Someone missing a bath once in a while is ridiculed even today.
The good thing is that we are getting rid of most of such non relevant practices, but it will take time to change the mindset with roots so many decades deep. We will do it!
But on a lighter note ... don’t we have a set of cups and saucers for daily use, a set for guests and another for special occasions? Don’t we have mugs in the rack which each one of the house members owns and get upset if someone else has taken it? So... what’s the big deal!!!
Disclaimer: We do not have a help here and when we had one in Kuwait, never bothered to find out what she was using!

BrownPhantom said...

Oh my God. I just wrote a post on maid too. But it is actually very orthogonal to this one . And I am feeling slighly guilty now .
In my parent's house, no such discrimination exist :).
Following you :).

Urmi said...

I liked your post very much.You have portrayed the actual fact of life.We still distinguish the housemaids by offering her the ugly plates and cup for tea.But its really surprising that the people eat happily when the food is prepared by the maid then they don't worry about hygiene.It all depends on the mentality and in almost all houses the housemaids are treated very badly as they are very poor which should not happen infact we should treat them as a human being.

Meira said...

How come the maid can cook our food but can't be allowed to eat/drink from the plates we use? I gave my maid the same cup that we used till one day the mil came visiting and her 'educated' brahmin self admonished her (not me!) for taking advantage! She established a set of things for her and denied her entry into the puja room. I tried to get back to the old routine after she left, but my maid was scarred for life. She refused and said she was ok with what the mil demanded. After all, this wasn't the only home that expected her to stay away!

Unknown said...

It's more often the question of discrimination than hygiene. The fact that pains me most is that we talk about dignity of labour but we never fail to humiliate others and deny the domestic help the dignity. All in all, it was a really solid post. It really made me think. Very apt on the occasion of Independence Day. You have excellent writing skills and I am sure this quality would take you places. Keep up the good work, would definitely look forward to reading more thought-provoking articles from you.

sangeeta said...

i think it is more for hygiene issues.........but yes i believe in educating them esp about hygiene n nutrition ...i've been doing it n have seen that they like to change n behave like 'us'.......
good post n i vote against discrimination any day........we have such a delicate ego otherwise , that we think ourselves VIPs against any 'inferior population' .....we love being special.......see how SRK is crying fowl while Bon Dylan is cool.....

Meira said...

You have an award waiting for you at my blog.

Aparna said...

@ Kishore, thank you. I am glad you made the necessary changes in your blog.

@ BK Chowla ji, it is not just Mumbai or Delhi, most people all across India practice it.

@ Jyothi, you do not sound feudal at all, you are just defending your views and that is really admirable.

@ Sandhya, all of us have certain views and opinions and we argue on these issues. This is true democracy. Can you imagine living in a place where we can not express our ideas freely?

@ Apnatva, it is actually better to do your own stuff and not depend on other people. Some mothers however have to leave behind small children to go to work and they have to give in to a lot of demands from the maids.

@ SG, yes I agree, a lot of people still have the old mind set. It will take a lot more years to get rid of some traditions and ideas.

@ Mohan, thank you and a happy Independence day to you too.

@ Neha, children say the funniest things na? But they really act as our conscience at times.

@ Mustaf, welcome to my blog and thank you for expressing your views. As long as someone does not use foul language or personally attack one of the readers, I am quite ok with any expression of ideas. So next time do not hesitate to post your opinions.

@ Ramesh, thank you for reading and appreciating.

@ Suchismita, I have a lot of hope from the gen next. Hopefully our country will progress a lot in near future.

@ Angel in disguise, thank you. Our country still has many flaws but we are surely getting better with each passing year.

@ Suman I do not have any issues with maintaining hygiene. I was just against discrimination against maids. Yes we do reserve special crockery for special occassions, but isn't that different than giving our maid a separate cup, which is a lot of times chipped and old? I am just saying that every individual in this country needs to be given respect.
Your disclaimer noted!

@ Brown Phantom,no need to feel guilty, I think you did a wonderful job. I would have done things differently. Thanks!

@ Babli, thanks for your candid views. This is the first time I am reading such a long comment from you.Great!

@ Meira, the older generation is more set in the ways and it is very difficult to change their views. But still we try... and thanks for the award. Will shortly pick it up.

@ Akshay, thank you and welcome to my space. I hope you will visit often and freely express your opinions in future too.

@ Sangeeta, good point about us wanting to be more privileged and special. I think it is because we were subjugated for so long that we often get agitated if we feel violated. We protest immediately if we think some wrong doing has been done to us.

Thanks every body for writing in expressing your honest thoughts.

Toon Indian said...

really nice post..hope people follow your example that our country becomes less hypocritic then it is actually right now!!

Anonymous said...

Hey! Did you beat the RECORD for the maximum comments for this one? I am just adding one more.

I am just loving this.I never realized teenagers are so grown up these days. Maybe the new generation is changing!! All the best to them. It was an interesting post. Thank you.

Swatantra said...

I always feel great about the fact the way you put across your thoughts..

I am feeling like reading this book.. thanks for sharing!!

eye-in-sty-in said...

here is a thought - I argued with my mom about the seperate utensils too. Her explaination was quite simple and sounded convincing too. It was done not on basis of caste or social strata, but more for hygine. In your case, as the maid was feeding the daughter, it was logical of ur kiddo to make the comment.

Nandini Vishwanath said...

Agree with you on this. My granny at home used to follow these rules. Including give day old food, bad coffee ( read not strong, lack of sugar) with old decoction - all kinds of atrocities basically.

My mom came in and changed some of it. The separate utensils remained for whatever reason- but the coffee was fresh, the maid was given the bfast we were given etc. Now that my granny isn't there, same rules for different cups is still practiced, but I think its because my mom is used to it.

I used to blame them and fight for such things until I came to understand the generation gap. I don't have a maid, possibly will not have one to see what I do. But your post is an eye opener for me not to do it just out of practice.

Thanks :)

J P Joshi said...

Thank you for this 'reality check' post. I believe, these are acts that we continue to do as part of tradition and customs passed down from one generation to another and accepted as a norm by both sides, UNTIL someone innocently untouched by tradition, like your daughter, brings it to our notice, leading to introspection and then rectification, if deemed fit. Thank you for this very wonderful post on a subject that generally never crosses our mind but with which all of us Indians are aware of. and Happy Independence Day.

Unknown said...

Its my first time here :) Dropped by from Meira's blog. The post is very well written.. I grew up in a brahmin family where every1 was treated the same. no seperate cups / plates.. when I got married, my IL's were very orthodox.. if a non brahmin cooks, they won't even touch it. I def can't change them at this age.. but I try to explain to my lil 1 that they have a right to sticking to their beliefs and so do u... its slowly changing :) but i agree, it won't go away any time soon. Thankfully my hubby is very understanding abt this.

Lala said...

hi. i know i was away a long time. haven't read anyone's blog for over a month... so i thought of doing that. well, we had this in our home too. in fact i guess it still goes on in our home. i have often talked about this to mom. but just like when we talk about religion, she cannot come up with concrete things to support her point (i don't think 'our religion is the best' to which i asked 'how many do you know?' to be a valid reason.) so i leave her with her beliefs.

Aparna said...

@ Rahul, thank you for your inputs on this one.

@ Jyothi, actually there have been other posts which got more comments but I am very happy with the response here.

@ Swatantra, thanks. Try out the book. It is very long and at times boring, but it does make you think on certain issues.

@ Eye-in sty-in, I just have 2 questions for you..(a) what kind of germs will linger on the cups after a thorough cleaning?
(b)Do you really bother to know who has eaten from the plate and how well it has been washed when you go out to eat somewhere?
In my house at least I know the utensils have been washed well with the best soaps available in the market.

@ Nandini, customs and traditions which are so rooted in our system take time to go away. But we progress a bit more with every generation.

@ JP Joshi, very well put. Some times our children, who are innocent and not touched by any corruption, act as our conscience.

@Shruti, welcome to my blog. These things take a long time to go away. As you must have seen from the comments above, most young people are more tolerant and less discriminatory. I think our country will do rather well. Thanks for your input.

@ Lala, hi, where were you all these days? Our elders are rather set in their ways and it is difficult to change them. But we can always change ourselves, right?
Thanks for writing in.

Mahesh Sindbandge said...

Well why such a thought, perception we have predefined in our minds that people coming from poor background or low economic status have poor hygeine? is a question that always lingers in my mind.

Dont you think thats true somehow? but why does it matters much to us? is another question.

Many a times, we commit many such things but when it comes to others we do not stop it happening.

Its bitter but its a fact after all.
Its not only in india, its noticed in western countries too.

You got a nice blog Aparna Ji.


deeps said...

haha .. doesnt matter .. i hope you did find the deeps you were searching for ...

niway ...
you got the right cup of tea here as well ...
sorry didnt read the whole post ...impressive though .. :-)

Kavita Saharia said...

APARNA...I used to treat my last help just like a family member and was warned by many that it was not ok...but a time came when she started acting strange like not liking washing dishes, ignored wiping the spills kids made ,refusing to spread the clothes in the sun ...many more....she even suggested that we hire a part time maid to do such things while we already had two more male help....finally i arranged another job for her and it was very hard to get rid of her,she still visits us on pujas ,bihus as we continue to give her share of gifts and clothes as before.She was with us for four years now with my present one i am following some rules .

She is with us for two years now ,we pay all of them good ,two of our other helps have bought land of their own,we help them financially for their kids education,in time of a family crisis we offer them any help possible.....i have seen people treating helps very nicely but paying them very little instead.
We raise their salaries every year...two of them are with us right from the time i got married(14 yrs)...

I think a balance is good for both the first lady help was very good cook but she had no takers when i was looking for a job for her because most of my friends thought that she was too pampered in the end it left me feel guilty of spoiling her...and now i too have a separate set of dishes for all of them and they don't seem to mind.But the meals are served at the same time to all,we eat the same food and we all chat while we eat ...we at our dining table ..they on theirs at the kitchen.I am not ashamed at confessing that i have a different cup for the maid because this the way works for me.As for the cast ...we never bothered ,they are the one who get me my daily supply of flowers to offer thakur.They have a toilet cum bathroom of their own with shower and hot water ...and i do make surprise checks very often to see if it is clean .

Smita said...

I guess it is more because of the fact that we have been seeing certain things happening in certain way and we keep following it. Not that it justifies all wrong. To be honest even I have a different cup for my maid and not that am gonna a change it even now not because I think that she is different from us but because of something called cleanliness!!!

But I would say that if the present generation is able to break through the age old then am seriously proud of them!!!

BTW The books lies in my collection, need to pick it up soon :)

गौतम राजऋषि said...

ufff...first the post and then all these amazing comments and how patiently you answer to all of them...i feel jealous. ya, i do!

well the post took me back to my home far away in Bihar where my mom would not listen at all and would maintain the system of keepin separate cup-plate and glass for my Ramu Chacha...i have given up.may be sometime in future just like your three year old wise-one, when my "tanayaa" grows up, she will make good sense prevailed!!

abhi said...

Its an excellent post . I really love it .

Is this the problem with our society or the inferior complex that was already set in the maids mind

AD said...

Hi Aparna, first time here and love your style already. Its a great post for a great day and so true! Sad but true that such ways are a reality in a modern, independent India.

Parita said...

Very well said aparna! never thought about this earlier, my mom too keeps a cup seperate for maids..hmm i thought it was for hygiene reasons..shud ask her once but its difficult to change the older generation, i would say impossible!

Aparna said...

@ Mahesh, thank you for your honest and inspiring words. I hope you will visit again.

@ Deeps, yes I found the real one, thanks.

@ Kavita, if we do not take care of the people who work for us, who will?
Thank you for sharing some of your thoughts.

@ Smita, the current generation is doing pretty good Smita. You can pick up the book, but let me tell you that it can be pretty boring at places.

@ Gautam, thanks...I like to respond to all the readers, sometimes it does not happen though. All the best to your daughter.

@ Abhi, thanks.

@ AD, welcome to my blog. Thanks for your insightful views.

@ Parita, the older generation is pretty set in their ways, but I think slowly we will cast away all the archaic practices.

Nupur said...

@Aparna : You know I just started reading your post and the moment I read the books name... I did not want to go further.. Reason is simple.. my next read is "toss of lemon" :( Currently I'm reading "5 people you meet in the heaven" by Mitch Albom.

So I think once i'm done with the book I'll get back to this post.. I ought to.. Can't miss reading such a post drawing so much attention of the readers :)

Anonymous said...

Loved this heartfully.......

Anonymous said...

Couldnot send a better independence day message...Your daughter delivered it rghtfully and you passed it on :)

Dr. Ally Critter said...

Just big huge hugs.... this is something I feel so strongly about!