It was a crisis I had hoped would resolve itself. I had an infant at home, the maternity leave was over, family support was not immediately available and the several local maids interviewed had been found wanting. I hoped and prayed the patron saint looking after harassed working moms would smile on me and the perfect nanny would arrive.
Finally, it was time to take stock of the situation, and an “agency maid” was my last resort—a maid from one of the agencies which specialize in providing domestic help in cities. At the suggestion of friends and relatives, the search began.
A call to Chowdhury Placement in Maharani Bagh offered a low-down on the basics: “Fully trained with experience in baby care for Rs3,500-4,000, semi-trained for 2,000 and untrained for 1,500,” Chowdhury said. “I’ll send you my own sister-in-law, fair-skinned and clean.” Or, I could go over to his office and choose from an array of maids waiting for work.
The office, it turned out, was straight out of a horror film. After an hour’s search, I found the narrow lane that Chowdhury guided me to, through instructions over the cellphone. Open drains on both sides gave out an unbearable stench. The “office” was situated in a settlement of old, decrepit houses. It was a crumbling four-storeyed house. I passed dozens of Nepali children and women drying clothes.
Chowdhury Placement Agency was a one-room office. The Nepali lady sitting inside denied having ever had anything to do with other people’s babies. “Are there any other candidates?” I asked, only to receive blank stares in response. Chowdhury was nowhere to be seen.
Next stop: Priya Domestic Services, South Extension. Proprietors: Dabbu and Pappu Gupta. At least this one had a proper office in the basement of a shopping plaza. Dabbu summoned a girl waiting at the reception. “Saraswati has three years of experience. But because she is dark, she hasn’t got placed yet. So, she’s a bit nervous,” he said. I smiled uneasily at the girl.
Having convinced Dabbu that skin colour wasn’t a criterion as long as she knew her job well, I returned with the promise that she would be ready to work from the next day. When I reached the place to pick her up, I was informed that Saraswati had been sent elsewhere.
After a heated argument, Dabbu assured me that by Monday evening, he would personally bring a skilled maid to my house. “My people have gone to collect more girls from Kolkota and Assam,” he said. Help didn’t arrive for days, and I gave up on the Gupta brothers.
My last contact: MR Placement in Bhikaji Cama Place. Within hours of calling, a rep stood at my door to collect Rs1,000 as advance. I was suspicious, but once again, desperation prevailed over sense. On the following Monday, as my husband and I waited, with the baby on my lap, the telephone rang. A male voice informed us that he was bringing the maid over to our residence on his bike, but on the way, she had fallen off and hurt her foot.
Days later, as I contemplated resignation (from my job), a neighbour suggested Balika Seva Sadan, an unpretentious outfit that didn’t go by fancy labels such as “placement agency” or “domestic services”. The next morning, a maid rang my door. It has been a month, and baby, job and I are doing fine.
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