The domestic-help industry may be one of the most unorganised of sectors but there is nothing unorganised about the rate-card system that the industry swears by, which is always proportional to the real-estate value of neighbourhoods. In Andheri, where maids generally demand Rs 250 for one job (jhadoo-katka or sweeping-swabbing and bartan or washing utensils), the charges will jump to Rs 350 a job in Lokhandwala Complex. Colaba, for doing each chore, is Rs 800. But it is Rs 250 in Chembur. The rate at Orlem in Malad is Rs 200 but, at Malabar Hill, it’s an astronomical Rs 1,200.
But there is a method behind the apparent madness, say Mumbai’s bais. “The houses are so big and the sethani makes us do extra work. Don’t we know that salaries have also increased?’’ asks Vimlabai Sonawane. Rates also go for a toss when the family is huge. “If it’s a small family, then all the three tasks — sweeping-mopping, cleaning utensils and washing clothes — will be done for Rs 400-Rs 500. But, if the family has many kids and is big, the charges can go upto Rs 1,200,’’ Mohammad Ali Road resident Salma Lokhandwala says. You love them or you hate them but you just can’t live without them. Careers in many double-incomes households depend on the bai; besides, there is the neighbourhood gossip that goes so well with the evening chai. It is not without reason that Mumbaikars suffer their tantrums and absenteeism with varying degrees of stoicism.
The bai’s profile is also changing. From the typical kashta-sari-draped woman sporting a big bindi, she now sometimes wears jackets and gloves. She also prefer to work in offices.