Fairy is the maid. She arrives in the morning and sweeps the house with a big odd looking broom and after sweeping, squats outside in the garden near the water pump to wash the dishes from the previous evening meal. She does not cook–Beena and Krishna cook the family meals.Fairy does not clean the bathrooms, either.
Something not everyone knows: Hindu families clean their own bathrooms, since the maid—no matter what her financial situation– considers it an insult to clean this private area. (The Untouchable caste can clean bathrooms, and they do clean public bathrooms, but not private bathrooms in people’s houses. Most families do not want Untouchables to cross the threshold.)
One afternoon, I took a picture of Fairy and she burst out laughing and hugged me after looking at her digital image on the back of my camera. It was the very first photo anyone had ever taken of her. I then invited her to pose for a more formal portrait, which I promised to print and send to her. She borrowed Beena’s pink shawl and we walked out to the front garden. She wanted a second picture of herself by the rose bush.
As India becomes more anymore industrialized, domestic help becomes more difficult to find. For instance, even if illiterate, a woman could work in a mall as a shop assistants. Restaurants need dishwashers. Offices need errand girls to fetch tea and make photocopies. House maids tend to invest in their children’s schooling so that their offspring do not follow in their footsteps. If all goes well, Fairy’s children could grow up to be bank managers or teachers.
Presently, however, Fairy lives in a mud hut with her husband and three children. There is no toilet or interior water source. With the money she earns cleaning houses, she buys school uniforms for her children, paper, pencils and books. From what I understood about her situation, her husband beats her if he does not like the food she prepares but Fairy can not fight back or her neighbors will accuse her of being “modern.” Being a “modern” mother would reduce the chances of her two daughters finding suitable husbands, since in the eyes of the community they would be problem wives just like their mother.