Chapter 4, Pt 1 of 4
DOMESTIC HELP AND MISSES PERRY
Apart from the difficulty of remembering names of people, I often got confused about the meaning of some of the phrases my English friends used. For instance, whenever expressing her opinion about anything Miss Butcher would simply say, “I think so” or “It ought to be like this.” These expressions, though simple enough to understand now, used to make me wonder whether she was sure of her own mind or not. Also I found that unlike my Indian friends, she was not eager to give me advice or criticise me openly.
Then when sometimes, according to my Indian free and easy manner, I would ask small favours from my new friends, they would mostly say “Yes” to me, but later I would discover from Sheel that they did not always want to say “Yes,” and it was through politeness that they did not openly refuse doing things for me.
“You must not altogether rely upon their saying yes or all right,” Sheel pointed out to me “It is best to watch their expressions and then judge for yourself whether they mean yes or no.”
I found Les Selby much more sensitive to hurting anybody’s feelings than even the ladies. I can never forget the time when we invited the Selby family to tea and I had put a few peppercorns in some of the savoury Indian cakes. He was too polite to leave these hot things on his plate and yet he could not swallow or crunch them.
So he kept five of them hidden in his mouth the whole afternoon while managing to laugh and chat in his normal way. I did not come to know about this until a few years afterwards.
So to peep into the minds of my new friends and acquaintances, I had to watch their reactions to things as well as listen to them and to use tact and restraint most of the time. So far I had been in the habit of blurting out the truth whenever I could and to criticise my friends and relatives openly rather than behind their backs. But I do not mind admitting that through this habit I often unconsciously caused trouble and made myself unpopular. I dropped bricks in the middle of a smooth-running intercourse and felt embarrassed afterwards. I wondered whether I would ever be able to check this old habit of mine.
I felt the need of using tact and restraint much more so when we engaged our first (not counting Sally) resident maid named Dorothy. It was customary for doctors then to keep resident maids. The girls were looking for jobs and therefore they did not expect exorbitant wages or elaborate living conditions. We engaged Dorothy at 15s. a week (all found) and these were considered very generous terms then.
The responsibility of keeping Dorothy happy and occupied, of looking after her meals and giving her weekly wages was left entirely to me. In the first place, Sheel was too busy with his own work to help me in any way, and secondly he disliked taking on someone else’s duties, so I had to do my share of work the best way I could and to learn by my own experience.
I had been told long before coming to England that one could not dictate to an English maid, because if you tried to put any pressure on her she would just collect her hat and coat and walk out on you. I did not want anything like this to happen in my house so I left Dorothy severely alone to do her share of the work, and if I noticed anything wrong I simply shut my eyes to it.
I think Dorothy did consider herself lucky and was very happy. In fact we both were until she became stouter and lazy. She ignored the dust under the mats and in the corners. I do not think she was a thorough worker by nature and the fact that I was unwilling and incapable of criticising her in any way made her more careless.
In the end Sheel became really disgusted with her cleaning. “You will have to tell Dorothy to do her work properly and not keep leaving dust in the corners,” he said. I listened to him quietly. I knew it would not be any use begging him to do this unpleasant duty for me. Should I ask one of my English friends to help me out of the difficulty? No, I did not think that would be right either. So there was nothing for it but to go to her myself.
” Do you mind if I help you with the dusting, Dorothy?” I asked with a shaky voice. She went red in the face and gave mean unsavoury look.
“It is all right, Madam. I can manage quite well. I have not got too much to do.”
I could see she resented my interfering very much. Who would not? After all she had been with us for over two months then, and had had a free hand in everything; had received nothing but praise and appreciation from us and then suddenly I take it to my head to go and criticise her; to snatch away the freedom she had enjoyed “for so long. It was unfair. I had let things slide for too long.