During my under graduation, I had a Literature professor who taught us Othello. She was someone who I can say defined the word snob. She wouldn’t squirm before calling out a single student in a class of 46 with a totally unwarranted question, “Haven’t you bathed today?” Finicky about dirty tables and chairs, the professor made sure she pointed out what and who she felt needed to be ‘fixed’ and didn’t meet her unrealistic standards. There was a constant air of “I am supremely better than everyone else” vibe about her. But then an interesting episode changed my perception about her.
I visited her apartment in teacher’s quarters close by to submit an assignment. A proud bachelorette at 55, she used to live with a domestic maid. I was amazed by the way she treated her house help. The two were having breakfast when I entered and not for a second did I feel the other woman wasn’t a family member.
After a first-hand experience of the ‘otherly’ behaviour handed out to house-helps in my extended family, this was a welcome surprise.
Coincidentally, in the next class, she also gave a lesson on how practising equality starts at home. Stop thinking about your maids as people coming from the lower strata of society deserving anything less than you.
Though, I could never understand her obsessive-compulsive disorder about certain things, I no longer called her a colonialist, a term we often loosely use to call someone who still has a colonial hangover that s/he is better than the rest of the world.
Be a good human being. Don’t discriminate on the basis of gender, class, caste, religion. Don’t look down upon anyone. These are the lessons that are taught when you are in class V. But let’s face it, not many learn.
Just like this very famous Kolkata restaurant Mocambo’s managers, who denied entry to a driver because he was wearing ‘chappals’ and wasn’t ‘neatly dressed’. The incident came to light after a woman named Dilashi Hemnani posted the infuriating episode on Facebook. She narrated how the restaurant staff told her that they will not give her the table because their’s a fine-dining restaurant and the man accompanying her did not fit the bill.
Unfortunately, it’s not the first time such an incident has happened in the world or this country. In June this year, Delhi’s ‘posh’ restaurant Shiv Sagar denied entry to street kids who were accompanied by a woman wanting to treat them because it was her husband’s birthday. Though, they later put the blame on the woman saying she asked for free food for the kids.
My own house help and her family were denied entry into PVR on account of coming late for the movie. And because I had booked the tickets on my debit card, they demanded the card be shown along with the bar code. Something, I personally have never been asked for, even if it’s the protocol.
All the above-mentioned incidents bring home the point that this elitist mentality has crept into our social dynamics so much that it’s hard for people to see beyond the ‘neatly dressed’. And what makes it worse is this behaviour begins in the closed corners of our homes. I’ve seen so many of my friends and relatives keeping different utensils for the maids, not even allowing them to use their own washrooms because they ‘don’t know if they live in clean surroundings’. Many tend to see the unorganised workforce as ‘others’. Consequently, they tend to feel they belong there.
I remember my house help’s son voluntarily sitting on the floor of my house while visiting with his mother. He looked at my mother with surprise when she asked him to sit on the sofa.
Therefore, it’s difficult to imagine the happiness Manish, Hemnani’s driver, must have felt when she asked him to have dinner with her at Mocambo and the disappointment after being turned away.
It must be noted that such incidents are happening at a time when the society as a whole has just initiated change. Remember Pune-based professional Nithya Shanti whose mother inspired thousands to treat their house helps as equals by hosting a dinner for her and her family? After his post went viral on social media, many actually hosted dinners and shared pictures on social media which stands as a testimony to a change that’s much required.
Hemnani’s post has evoked anger in millions of people who read it, which in itself is reflective of a positive change but do they treat their drivers, maids, washermen as equals? Well, that should be the goal.