Peripheral Vision: a Bar Housekeeper
“I wonder how people, who can afford to come to these places, have no bathroom etiquette.”
Our series, Peripheral Vision, explores the untold stories of people we encounter on a daily basis.
My name is Madhu Jadhav, and I don’t know my age. I didn’t study at all. I had to take care of my old, ailing mother, and my father had died very early. I am the eldest and I had to ensure that everyone else studied while I took care of our mother, the house and everybody’s education.
We were very poor. I started with begging outside temples, then collecting scrap. I used to work on construction sites and even as housekeeping staff in hospitals. Our house used to run on the money I got from these jobs and I had to keep at it till my brothers grew up and got married.
I got this job as housekeeping staff through somebody at my previous job. I’ve been here two years, and it’s the one I’ve enjoyed the most.
I start at 9 a.m. and finish at 6 p.m. On days when the restaurant has parties, or on special occasions such as festivals or on New Year’s Eve, I may have to put in a few extra hours and I have no problem doing that. But I dread December 31st nights, because the last time, people had puked all over the floor. I had to send a few women out in the garden because there was no place left anymore for them to puke.
I wonder how people, who can afford to come to these places, have no bathroom etiquette. They don’t know how to sit; they leave the place wet; sometimes they won’t flush; or they won’t clean up after they’re done. Do they do this only because they have someone to do all this for them? Or because it’s not their home?
I don’t have any problem cleaning — it’s my job; it’s what supports my stomach. My job is to keep things clean, in the washroom and in the rest of the bar. I was trained for it, but I use my own brains, too. I don’t sit idle. If there’s nothing to clean in the washroom, I’ll go and help the staff wipe the dishes, or do something else. My job is to help run the place, and I feel it’s as important as the chef’s job here, or the bartender’s.
Sometimes, it takes a toll on me because I have asthma, and this is a lot of physical work. I get tired standing, but the manager and the staff here are so understanding that they don’t tell me anything if I take a few minutes to sit. They even give me food either when they are trying out new recipes in the kitchen, or when I am hungry. I crave good food — everyone craves it — and it’s better to ask for it than to steal or have your eyes on it.
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When I see children drinking with their parents, it doesn’t feel good. I know times have changed. I should also learn to accept these changes since I have children, too, but this is something I haven’t been able to make peace with. Yeh acche sanskaar nahin hai. (These are not good values.)
I have never had a drop of alcohol. My friends tell me to drink; even the staff here urges me to try stuff, but I have never and don’t ever want to drink. There’s no reason for it. I feel like we should enjoy doing things that we are capable of. My son doesn’t go out with friends because he thinks they will introduce him to cigarettes, alcohol and those are things he doesn’t want to waste time or money on. I do appreciate his decision but I’ve never stopped him from doing anything.
He’s the reason I’m living. I like this job only because it gives me the money to pay rent for our house and pay for his education. My husband hasn’t contributed to the house or his education, and I have no qualms about it. I’m very proud that I’ve taken care of his education.
If there’s no money to eat, it’s fine. My daughter, son and I have spent days eating rice mixed with water, or Parle-G and water, but I’ve never lied to borrow money from anyone or asked for help when it wasn’t necessary. I’ve never even asked for old clothes to clothe my children.
But as hard as we work, poverty always lands us in sticky situations also. Once, at my older job, a woman blamed me for stealing her phone. I’m someone who hasn’t ever lied to anyone. How could I steal a phone? I had to prove myself innocent. So, I stripped down to show them that I didn’t have it on me. I emptied my bag for them, even asked them to check the CCTV footage to assure them that I hadn’t stepped out of the premises to keep it anywhere else. After they didn’t find anything on me, they had to apologize to me. If they hadn’t, I wouldn’t have been able to sleep. Just because we’re poor, it doesn’t mean we steal. I sat at home for two months after falling off a train, without being paid, but I didn’t go and ask anyone for help.
I do what I’m capable of and work as hard as I can. My son wants to become a hotel manager, but I told him that I won’t have money to let him pursue a course that will help him become one. He’s been very understanding and I know he will make me proud with whatever he does.
He already did, when he got me a purse worth Rs. 200 with the money he earned by working part-time at another restaurant. I will never throw my first gift from him, even if it is in tatters.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity. As told to Anubhuti Matta.
Anubhuti Matta is an associate editor with The Swaddle. When not at work, she's busy pursuing kathak, reading books on and by women in the Middle East or making dresses out of Indian prints.