Till about a few years back, we did not have any domestic help at home—either full-time or part-time. It was not because we could not afford one; on the contrary, it was because my mother, who is an intensely private person, could not bear to have any help afoot at home. She abhorred the inevitable gossip that came as a package deal with the domestic helps. We once had a domestic help called Kashibai, who would step into our house and start off on the goings on in the other houses she worked in. Even if we told her that we did not want to hear about the affairs of other houses, she would continue with absolute relish. We were quite sure when she worked in the other houses, she would be speaking about the goings on in our house !
All this led to Amma preferring not to have any domestic help and do all the household work herself. The rest of us would pitch in whenever she let us help her. But with advancing age, this state of affairs could not go on for ever and about 8 years ago, Amma finally agreed to have someone to clean the floors. Then, about 2 years back, she agreed to appoint someone to clean our windows, and recently, she agreed to have part-time help in the kitchen. Each appointment was made after battles galore with Amma, where I simply wore her down with my nagging. Today, Amma has learnt to just about tolerate this intrusion into her privacy for the little time that the domestic helps are there in our house every day. Then about 2 months back something happened that upset this little equilibrium of having part-time domestic help at home.
My Appa (father) fell seriously ill resulting in hospitalisation. By the time he was discharged, it became very clear that he could no longer take care of his own needs independently and would require help at every stage. This meant that we had to arrange for an attendant who would be with him at all times. When Appa got discharged, he came home to changed domestic arrangements—in addition to the part-time help that we already had, we had a full-time attendant just for him. This time around, I too keenly felt the claustrophobia of having a stranger around all the time at home. As for what my mother felt like, I don’t even need to elaborate.
One day, about 2 weeks back, the attendant asked for 1/2 day off to attend to some personal work. I was so happy at the prospect of having the house to ourselves that I almost pushed the poor guy out of the house. Very pleased with myself, I went and sat next to my father and said, “It’s so nice to have the house to ourselves for some time at least. This loss of privacy is getting to be a bit too much. Don’t you think so, Appa?”
Appa was silent for some time before replying. His reply stunned me and left me deeply, intensely ashamed.
What is privacy to a man who has to be washed and fed and cleaned and dressed by someone else? It means nothing in the face of losing the dignity of being independent.