Working abroad has been a wish of mine for some time now. Xebia offers me the opportunity to live and work in India. Through this blog series I will keep you informed of the progress and challenges of this project.
When moving to India it is almost inevitable to become an employer. One of my colleagues predicted that this would be one of the most enjoyable advantages of living in India and I have to say that so far he has been right. In our case we employ a cook, a cleaning lady and a driver. We are very satisfied with their services.
When we moved into our apartment, the land lord explained that we have a 'security guard' living on the premises for which a small monthly fee is added to the rent. This turned out to be more like a handyman that lives on the top of our apartment complex together with his wive and two children. He was involved in the construction of the building and has been living there since its completion. We don't have many tasks for him; apparently we can ask him to do our shopping, but since the small shopping center is just a few hundred meters from our house and we buy our groceries from Paul who offers home delivery for free, we usually enjoy the walk and do the shopping ourselves.
They also explained to us that the security guards wife cooks and cleans for some of the other tenants and that she might be able to provide these services to us as well. It turned out that her schedule is quite busy and it would only allow her to cook for us between 5 and 6 in the afternoon. Would this be convenient for us? In an Indian context cooking between 5 and 6 is not convenient, since dinner is normally later at night, between 9 and 10. In the Netherlands eating between 6 and 7 is fairly normal and since I usually reach home around 6, we stick to our Dutch habits.
The land lady was a bit concerned about the kind of food that the cook would be able to prepare for us. She only cooks proper Indian food and this might proof too spicy or not to our liking. We ensured her that we would like to try the cooks services for a few weeks. Thus it was decided and after the Gas company had established through thorough investigation that we did not have another party delivering Gas to our house, we were able to connect the stove and she could start cooking. The food turned out to be very nice and not spicy at all. Whether she adapts the spiciness for us or the Indian home cooked food is just not as spicy as the food that tourists always eat is still undecided.
After the first week we were really very happy with the cook. She cooks rice, lentils, chapattis (flat round breads) and some type of vegetables every day. There are many types of lentils and she can prepare them all. She also has quite a good repertoire for vegetables. Sometimes she cooks paneer (cheese) in spinach sauce or potatoes. Sometimes its is cauliflower with garam masala. Very tasty. I also take the food from last evening to the office for lunch next day and some of my colleagues have expressed their envy at the healthy home cooked food.
After five weeks, we decided that we would go out for dinner at least once a week. One of the things that originally compelled me to come to India was the delicious food: kebabs, chicken makhani and tandoori naan are all very tasty. The cook only cooks vegetarian meals. We never asked her to cook any different, but there is no meat shop in the shopping center and we have the impression that nobody else in the apartment complex ever cooks meat. Smells of juicy roasted chicken never reach our nostrils. But the main reason to have some unhealthy restaurant food once in a while is not our urge for meat; however many types of lentils the cook cooks, to our Dutch/European trained stomachs it still is rice, lentils, chapatti and vegetables every day! The Indians always laugh at our bread-only meals. How can one eat so much bread during the day? After having a straigt diet of rice, lentils, rice, lentils and rice and more lentils for a few weeks I kind of see their point, but from the opposite direction.
The cook, Gaatri, doesn't seem to mind. She is a very happy lady and often sings to herself while she cooks. Mostly we're not at home when she comes to cook, but she always greets us very happily with a 'Namasgar' from the kitchen. She doesn't speak any English at all and the fact that we don't speak Hindi (much) doesn't prevent her from talking in rapid Hindi to us whenever we try to communicate the fact that we won't be needing her services tomorrow. For this particular purpose, communicating when we want her to cook and when not, we have installed a calender in the kitchen on which we indicate with big red crosses which days her services are not required. When we first installed it, we wrote the weekdays in Hindi above the Dutch names, and we all happily understood each other. The one thing I'm most curious about, but unfortunately unable to ask her, is what she thinks of the images on the calender. Every month is a new image of a cow feeding on some nice, lush fields in the Dutch country side. Cows in Delhi never feed happily on lush fields. The walk the streets and rummage through some garbage. Even though the cow is a sacred animal in India, to us the cows in the calender appear much happier than the cows that occasionally block the roads between Delhi and Gurgaon in the morning. I really wonder what she makes of all this...
The cleaning lady
Since the cook was to busy to do the cleaning for us, we asked them to if they knew somebody else who could do the cleaning. They had a relative that would be able to do this for us. We don't now how this lady, Nela, is related to them, but often when she comes to our house, the cook and her spend some time chatting in our kitchen. Of course we don't understand one bit from what is being said, but it appears to be just normal chit-chat. The cleaning lady is a small shyish woman, but she cleans the whole house very efficiently in one hour, sweeping all the floors and cleaning out the bathroom. Cleaning the house this thoroughly every day is quite necessary in Delhi, because it is a very dusty city since the dessert of Rajasthan is not very far away.
To us this is indeed a very enjoyable, affordable luxury. In the Netherlands, I would not be able to afford such a service, but in India it seems we are all very happy with the arrangements. The land lady told me that the cook and cleaning lady are quite happy with us as customers, since we're never there to tell them what and how to go about their business. In most apartments (including hers!) the lady of the house will always be there to tell them to clean that part of the floor again or to use hot water for doing the dishes and so on. In our apartment they are left to them selves and they sure know how to do their business. I'm also a bit relieved by the fact that they operate completely independently. I was a bit concerned to have 'servants' in the house. How are you supposed to threat them? I'm not used to giving commands (although my girlfriend disagrees on this). Now I never have to and the household seems to run like clockwork.
In comparison to the luxury of a cook and a cleaning lady, having a driver is a complete necessity. We live roughly 20 kilometers from my office and somewhat the same distance from the orphanage my girlfriend works in. So this means I am traveling about two hours every day and she even more. Luckily we were able to find a driver right away. He is a relative of one of the office boys that works for Xebia India. He's quite a young man, but he is very dependable and very friendly. He keeps addressing me as 'Sir' and my girlfriend as 'Madam'. He reaches our home every morning around 7 o'clock and starts with removing the dust from the car. We leave for the office around 7:15 or 7:30 reaching there around 8. They drop me and the driver brings my girlfriend to the orphanage, another half hour drive. There he waits while she conducts her therapy sessions and after lunch they go back home. In the afternoon he returns to the office to pick me up. Then we reach home between 5 and 6 and that completes his working day. So on a normal working day he often works 11 hours, but he never complains about this.
We are very happy with this driver. The only thing we're sometimes not so happy about is... his driving style! He uses the clutch not very smoothly and he breaks very hard. This is quite uncomfortable at times for passengers. Of course it is far more important that he steers us safely every day through the busy Delhi trafic, but it could be so much nicer if he would improve his driving skills. I've tried to explain to him that it would be better for his employment position to improve his skills, but so far to no avail. I'm not sure whether it is due to the language problem (his English is better than most, but that doesn't mean much) or inability on his part. One other thing is that he is not a very confident driver. He steers through the hectic trafic very cautiously, which is good, but sometimes he's just plain slow or hesitant, which is bad, because it can also lead to dangerous situations. Furthermore Indian roads are not the best place to be hesitant. The other road users have no problems pushing their vehical past yours left and right if you give them an inch, or even if you don't. Whenever things go not as smoothly as he or we would like, he is very quick in saying 'Sorry Sir!' or 'Sorry Madam!' and I always feel it is sincere, even though it doesn't help much.
Taking all this into account, we have grown quite attached to our little driver. I still have the silent hope that he will improve his skills giving time and all will be even better. The most important to me is that I feel I can trust him. Let's hope that feeling remains (touch wood).
So here we are: employing a cook, a cleaning lady and a driver. A few months ago, I could not have imagined what that would be like. Two years ago I would have thought it very decadent. Right now, I'm getting used to it and I have to say it is very pleasant.
There are many more things happening and I'll try to find some time to write about it.