Jan 12, 2011

A Day in the Life of Two Maids

by Dania Shah Khan


Every day I have to go by bus to my mistress’s house. It stinks and I wrap my dupatta on my face so I can’t take in the putrid sweat of the people beside me. Some of the men in the bus stare at women with dirty, sleazy glances. I feel conscious as I sit there on my tattered broken seat. It’s a long journey and it takes an hour to reach there. It’s suffocating under my faded green dupatta and I welcome the end of the journey with a great sigh and step outside of the bus. From there it’s a walk to my mistress’s home. It’s a beautiful two storey house with everything that I dream my house would be.

Its straight nine ‘o’ clock and I start with preparing breakfast and clearing the kitchen and surroundings. It’s backbreaking work and I have to do it on my own with only a lazy old maid to help me who can’t even help herself. It’s extremely hot and I sweat and huff and puff.

I wash the breakfast dishes which are a mighty pile! Oh God! I say inside my heart. Then it’s lunch what a big dish to make. Today it’s Nihari and will take time. Again the dishes, someone cries out ‘Make Green tea!’ and I have to boil the water for it. Meanwhile time is running out and I have to read namaz, clear the kitchen and prepare the nights food! So much to do! I am speeding all this when the old maid comes with a sly smile and exclaims ‘What’s the hurry for! You want to avoid the work don’t you? Leaving it all to me huh? Thinking I will do it when you go!”

“No, no! My kids are waiting at home and it takes an hour to reach there and it get’s late! They are on their own!”

“Excuses, excuses, all excuses, don’t you dare do such fast work, you better slow down or the nights food will be all cold and bad!”

I calm myself down, so I don’t shout and start a fight otherwise the mistress’s nerves are affected.

“Make me noodles, I’m hungry!” cries out her son and runs off, expecting it to be done.

“But you just ate Nihari!” And then I remembered he hardly did, he left it for me to finish off. But it’s okay I’ll take it to my children to have. They’ll be happy unlike these ungrateful children who get everything. I quickly prepare noodles for the boy with the old maid tutting behind my back and run to the night food which is biryani before it burns and is spoiled. The boy grabs the noodles without any gratitude but I’m used to it and comment’s that it’s not the way he likes it. Oh God! Clearing up the dishes and mopping the floor I check the time. Oh God! It’s six! And my time to go is five!

I rush home but the nosy driver has to check what I’m taking in case I’m stealing something! It takes 15 minutes and he takes a mighty long time to do it. The bus is about to go but I catch it in time almost falling back as I do so. When I get back home to my tiny house I try to avoid my dupatta from trailing in a dirty street with litter strewn around and pools of polluted water on the ground. I enter through the almost collapsing broken door and rush to prepare food for my kids and give time to my husband and tolerate my mother in law’s bickering. The day has not ended for me yet.


Every day I go by the double Decker bus to two elderly people living in the East side of London. It seems like there are people from the entire world in just one bus. An African lady, a Filipino and another Punjabi woman like me sitting opposite. She says Salaam and I say Salaam back. The journey takes half an hour from where I live but I spend it looking out at the corner shops and supermarkets.

 The air is extremely chilly when I get off at the bus stop. Their house is a few minutes away and I walk wrapped up in my thick shawl and long coat. It’s a comfortable medium size house which is attached to another house; all houses in London are such. I ring the bell and Mr. Khan opens the door, he is Pakistani as well like me he and his wife greet me with a Salaam.

 It’s nine ‘o’ Clock. I start slowly with the kitchen preparing the breakfast although Mr. Khan helps me most of the time as he is a man who does not spend his time idle, and his wife is wheelchair bound and cannot help, in most of the house matters. There are only a few dishes to tend to and I am done with it in quite a reasonable time. The house needs cleaning and I hover and scrub the bathroom quite well.  Then time to make lunch. It’s Nihari today.  I take my time preparing it and talk to Mrs. Khan who is quite bored and restless. “My daughter in Karachi tells me she can’t handle her Masi, she’s always in a hurry to go home, it’s really terrible.” I feel bad for the maid there; poor woman has so much to bear. I’ve heard the Khan’s daughter’s family is quite large and most of the time that Masi is working. And she only receives seven thousand rupees a month which is nothing here.

 I have to clear the dishes again and prepare green tea.  I have time to rest, sometime I do Mrs. Khan’s itty bitty jobs or answer to Mr. Khan’s orders like changing the bedcovers or hanging the clothes on the line in the garden. He can get very particular. He always needs his work to be done in a certain way. I have to put the dishes on the table in the way he wants it, even if it’s slightly to the left or right he gets in a fit.

It’s four o clock and almost my time to go but I leave early because my kids are at home and they asked for fish and chips on the way back. The Khan’s don’t have any problem with that. I go back by bus leisurely and buy the greasy and warm fish and chips on the way. My house is the same as Mr. and Mrs.Khan’s which is a nice little street with cozy houses. My kids swarm around me as they spy the food and my husband asks me to prepare food for him. I have brought the Nihari from their house as they told me to take some of it home and he enjoys it thoroughly. And that is how most of my day is spent. 


Rachit said...

A beautifully crafted post, I wish partition had never taken placed. Both Hindus & Muslims must have lived like brothers as they were doing since time immortal.

Simra Siddiqui said...

This is truly heart-touching!

Dania Shah said...

Thank you! :)

yusra abbasi said...

wow..its sad and interesting to see how people in a profession like that of maids can have such different lifestyles.

Zainab Akhtar said...

A very nice and unique idea! Love it :)

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