This the second and concluding part of the article, ‘Times, they are changing’ that appeared on 21 August 2022.

Parvati, domestic help of several years, had alerted me for a loan well in advance. Due to illness, I procrastinated. A couple of days before her leave, I am about to sleep off and awaken with a startling thought: God, suppose there is a net issue with the transfer. Around midnight, I force myself out of bed to do it.
Next morning, an alert shows it hasn’t happened. I try again and again. Frantic calls to banks. Problem unresolved. Panic. No cash at home, can’t go to the bank or ATM. I call up the local store, requesting them to hand over the money, to be replaced. I tell Parvati what has transpired. She eats lunch with me, completes her work. I remind her again when she leaves. She nods and goes. All seemingly normal.
Next day, I call to enquire if she got the money. Full throated reply, “I made my own arrangement. I do duty at your place and go like a beggar to the store in the town hub!” Before I respond, the line disconnects. I call back. No response. I call a relative who says, “She’s not picking up, why?” I scream: “Because she thinks she is a queen.” I disconnect.
Two days later than the leave period, Parvati calmly walks in. One house key has always been with her. I tell her to put on the water kettle and join me in the balcony. I am quiet, mentally grappling to make sure I don’t err when I speak. She asks, “You wanted to say something?” I begin and she quickly interrupts, “Oh, it was just about money, so what? I sorted it.” I begin my so-called spiel, the conversation goes wrong and she blows off. Flailing arms, raised voice, the works.
“Go find yourself an honest worker. I am leaving,” and stomps off, then back, throws the house keys, shouting, “lest it be said that I stole something.” A knife wound. I had never accused Parvati of stealing.
I waited and did not mention the need for a replacement for days. An old handyman, Suresh, who first brought her, came to look me up. I told him what had transpired. He said he will intervene.
Next day, Suresh reports: “She’s gone crazy. Forget about her…She was screaming madly that now ‘aunty’ will have to come to my house to beg me to come back…and I will take a higher salary.”
Even now, sometimes I feel, maybe she is grieving for my husband, whom she looked up to like a father. Others say what they will.
“Oh, she was getting too much. You spoilt her.” “This class of people are like that, no loyalty.” “It is their caste.” It is a little hard to hear all that. Question of two human beings and who was right or wrong. No answer but a continuous replay of Dr. Zhivago.
Story 3: A highly recommended but hard-of-hearing “all-rounder” is brought to me. Charan is highly popular locally. Everybody indicates he is perfect.
I notice his discomfort right at the start. He has been used to working in guest houses. A lot of hustle-bustle unlike a home, that too where someone is just working quietly on a laptop. I have to find ways to keep him busy, make time to chat, break him in.
Haphazard guest house experience begins to show up. Meanwhile, he doesn’t tire of telling me how many local people have been calling him back. In a sense that I should be grateful he is here. It won’t work, I tell myself. I chat and tell him his thoughts are elsewhere. He tells me not to worry.
My eating routine has been off-track, so I make a special effort. Buy something interesting every day, eat lunch with him. For dinner, which I don’t eat, I tell him, make whatever you like. He brushes me aside, saying not to worry.
Ten days. He dramatically says he must rush to the nearest town because he is very unwell, needs tests and his Covid booster. Departure will be the next day. All laced with charming talk of commitment.
Charan is tuned-in for his ten-day remuneration to the last rupee even before I have had my first cup of coffee. Money in hand, he leaves, saying, “Your toothpaste, soap, oil, is all here.” Smart, sharp talk.
Within less than two days I hear, “Oh, Madam hasn’t even called to enquire about my health.” “All through, I ate rotis (Indian bread) at night, with just sauce. No veggies or lentils even on a single day.”
Ultimately, it is beyond the Zhivago syndrome. This is not a country prone to mass scale revolution but the tables are surely turning. The working class in India is in a cycle that cannot be stemmed. It will be a while before they become well-paid albeit stone-faced, super-efficient machines doing three or more tasks simultaneously while on “duty”.
I can clearly see that single German woman in a café: laying the tables, the buffet, serving coffee pots, clearing up, loading the dishwasher, leaving everything ready for her (or the other’s!) next round of “duty”. Expressionless. It’s the same with the weekly or bi-weekly house-helper in the West. Buzz in, buzz out.
Human beings.
Oh yeah…Who, where, hmmnn?

Neelima Mathur is an India-based Executive Producer, Researcher, Writer, Mentor and Trainer for documentary and NGO films. She is also Festival Director of the Lakeside Doc Festival.