Monday, January 31, 2011

About "Servants"

Let me start by saying that I hate the term "servants". However, it is used so commonly in India and by Indian people all over the world, that with time I also started using it. In the end it is shorter to say "servants" than "the people who work for the X family". Still, whenever I use this word I put the quotation marks around it and I would like you to read it with them and understand what I mean.

On the flight to India I read an excellent novel by Aravind Adiga called "The White Tiger". This book, together with the stories that I heard from Anil, helped me to better understand modern life in India, and especially the relationship between a "servant" and their employer. Interestingly, since the book is written from the perspective of a "servant", even Anil found it eye-opening.

From Anil I knew that it is not uncommon for the employers to mistreat their "servants", and that "servants" will also do anything possible to take advantage of their employers (though, obviously, they have much less possibilities of doing so than their employers...)

The novel made us realize that there is also a lot of competition and backstabbing between the servants, which I found really sad. It's truly a pity that they do not realize that they would be able to achieve more if they were cooperating with each other. I fear that if Indian "servants" will not unite soon, their situation will never improve.

Luckily, Anil's parents are kind unpretentious people who lived many years abroad, which makes them good employers. They hire several people to help them with the house, and from what I saw, they treat all of them with a lot of respect. They also make sure that the children of their employees go to school and that the women are well-treated by their husbands.

Shockingly, that's not the case in most Indian households. Even in their upscale neighborhood it is apparently common for other employers to beat their "servants"!

Even though Anil's parents are good employers, occasionally their workers try to take advantage of them. As also "The White Tiger" explains, if you show too much kindness and understanding towards your "servants", from their point of view you are "stupid and naive" and deserve to be taken advantage of... They think that you have so much more money than they have that taking some more from you is not a theft, it is simply the right thing to do.

That means that you need to be pretty strict with your employees and establish a well-defined set of rules for them. (Of course there is absolutely no guarantee that they will follow them, and at the end of the day it is only a matter of luck if you find good workers or not.) I guess this is also the reason why Anil's mother did not want to give them the chocolates I brought. And I fear that if it would so happen that Anil and I move to India and hire some people to help us with cleaning the house, cooking and/or as drivers, they will totally walk over our heads. But let's cross that bridge when (if) we get there.