My cook has been absconding, again. Remember I promoted her to an all-in-one solution – come, clean, do the laundry, iron clothes, cook, wash dishes, and generally keep my life housework-free? It’s always a bad idea, this all-in-one solution. The moment people begin to think they are indispensible, they start to take advantage of the situation. But on the other hand, if you have two (or more) employees, you have politics. Since my cook seemed like a genuine and straightforward person, reasonably reliable and hard working, I opted out of the politics and put all my eggs in one basket.
My cook always has a good reason for her various absences. To hear her tell it, her life is one long saga of unrelieved misery, tension, and tragedy. Her husband beat her with a broken bottle, dragged her to the police station and abandoned her there accusing her of having AIDS. Her children steal money from her and publicly accuse her of sleeping around. Her landlord abuses her, molests her, and never returns her cash advance (every landlord she gets – and she has been through many). Her purse gets lost or stolen in the bus. Her daughter, who never got married, wants to get divorced and abandon her two small children, one of whom, at any point in time, either is or should be in the Emergency Room with some mysterious and life-threatening ailment. She has a knee problem that can only be fixed with an expensive operation. And, of course, she wants to sell a kidney so she can get all her gold back from various unscrupulous pawn brokers, if only she could find a way of doing so without winding up dead.
Shocking, no? And if I sound cynical and cruel and stone-hearted… well, chances are, so would you if you had to listen to such unrelieved tedium week after week and month after month. I’ll soon be writing depressing and horrid Thomas Hardy type novels if this goes on much longer.
The last time I lent my cook money – my previous cook, not this one – we never got it back. So now Amit has completely forbidden me from giving any employee any money apart from a cash advance on work already done. I hate to say so, but in my head I agree with him. My heart usually goes out to these people, but if my money follows, I know it will never come back. You might say I have enough, why should I grudge it, but I do grudge it, especially with the current cook. She’s not just naïve, she’s downright stupid. Let me illustrate with an example.
One day, she came to me and said she wanted to buy a car. Yes, that’s right – she usually doesn’t know where the next kilo of rice is coming from at the end of the month (and I pay her an extravagant salary; and her son earns quite a bit too) – but she wants to buy a car. When I stared at her blankly and asked, “But why?” she said, “It will be so much easier for me to get to work and back, these buses are unpredictable,” etc etc. So I tried to break it to her gently that petrol wasn’t exactly free nowadays, and she said, “Oh, I won’t use it, of course, I’ll give it to some taxi company and they will run it and they will give me money for it, with which I will pay back the loan and the balance is my income, see?”
“Sure, and how does that solve your bus problem?” I asked. “Besides, have you thought about what you are going to do when the taxi company crashes the car?” I didn’t mention insurance to her – the taxi company will probably keep the insurance money. “Do you think the company who gives you the loan will say, ‘oh, you poor thing, the taxi company crashed the car? Ok, then, we’ll waive the rest of the loan for you.’”
And so it goes. She always has a naïve and extremely stupid scheme up her sleeve that will make her rich and it never works because people are neither so stupid nor so magnanimous as she believes. The number of ways she has discovered to lose money is just incredible. Like a stray pup, she will trust just anybody if they talk nicely to her; and she’s only too willing to shell out money in the pathetic belief that it will come back double.
So anyway, in the last month or so, her absence has become much more the norm than her actual presence. Around the middle of the month, when the house had not been cleaned for several days running, I confronted her and said, “This is unacceptable. If you can’t manage the work, I’ll get someone else.” This, obviously, was the cue for her to say, “oh, please, madam, don’t do that, I’ll be regular from tomorrow, I promise, only please don’t do that,” but instead she coolly said, “Ok.”
After that, she became even more erratic and the kind of food she churned out sometimes made Amit wish that she hadn’t even come. And she’s a good cook – the sort who can make eminently edible food without even trying. It began to look as if she was actually trying to get fired. But I wasn’t ready to fire her yet, so I gritted my teeth and said nothing. We got another woman to come and take over the cleaning, laundry, ironing, and washing of dishes, so that the cook just had to cook. On day two of this other woman joining, the cook apparently told her, “Can you cook too? Because I’m not planning to stick around past the end of this month.”
To me, she continued her extended sob story and I pretended to accept it. Now the other woman has been around for a couple of weeks and her work looks ok. But since around Wednesday last week, we haven’t seen hair nor hide of the cook.
Which brings me to the crux of the matter. On Wednesday evening, we ate leftovers for dinner, then I left the kids to their own devices and cooked for Thursday’s lunch. On Thursday evening, when Amit had just come back from a business trip, I ignored him and the kids and cooked for dinner and Friday’s lunch. It wasn’t quite enough, though, so we supplemented it by ordering in. On Friday evening, I only had to worry about that day’s dinner, so I put together masala dosa. After about ten dosas, it felt like a half-holiday. But later in the evening, Amit was starving and had to make do with stale and mouldy bread. On Saturday, I got down to business and put together a delicious mutton curry and veg for lunch. I did atta and made a dozen rotis. Thankfully, we had a dinner invitation, so that saved me having to do one more meal.
Then on Sunday I woke up sick. Unfortunately I wasn’t sick enough to get royal treatment, but I had a sore throat and a back ache and was generally low on energy, so we went out for lunch. On Sunday evening we did barbecue chicken with fresh rotis and stale veg.
On Monday, I was better, unfortunately. So I spent from 9 a.m. practically till 2 p.m. in the kitchen (with a short interval for bathing the kids and self). I made dal, channa, baigan (eggplant – which I don’t even like), cabbage-and-carrot, boiled chicken (scraps left over from the barbecue night), rice, and more atta for more rotis (which I can’t even eat… sigh). And it’s still only barely enough for Tuesday’s lunch. When I get back from work on Tuesday evening, I’m going to have to whip up dinner and Wednesday’s lunch without missing a beat.
I’m just not cut out for this. I can cook once a week and make something hopefully nice and hopefully non-veg. But having to do dal-chawal-roti-sabzi every day of the week? I don’t think I can survive even a week like this.
I know there are women who do this every day – cheerfully, effortlessly, and most importantly without complaining. There are even women who make an art form of it. All I can say is… hats off to you! I don’t know how you do it and I can’t even remotely fathom why. You deserve an award. I? I deserve a day off – or at least a litre of ice cream and two cans of cold beer.