Payal Kapadia’s new book ‘Maidless in Mumbai’ is a hilarious take on a maidless mom who only wants one thing: a perfect maid to live happily ever after with. Kapadia is a journalist who is behind the best-selling children’s series Horrid High. We speak to her about writing for children vs adults, and how one often finds the humour in truth.
What was the inspiration and reason behind writing the book ?
Everywhere I go — from playgroups, to school bus stops — everyone is talking about a maid. Having a maid or not having one has become a core element of the happiness quotient of urban women’s lives. It is like the situation in England at the end of the last century when Downtown Abbey-type manors were closing down, and there was a shortage of people willing to work as help. This spurred changes in the way people lived in England. It was re-calibrated to become more efficient.
Ultimately, I thought that this was a story that needed to be told. The social change that is taking place is a positive one. The children of those who are domestic help don’t want to do the same work — they would rather work in malls, or factories — places which afford them more dignity. At the same time, urban Indian women are increasingly looking at working outside the home. So the demand for house help is high, and the supply is falling, and this is leading to a new terrain in the maid-memsahib relationship. The memsahib will do anything to keep her maid — and this is a source of great comedy.
How is the writing process different for writing for children vs writing for adults?
Children are more open and less judgemental than adults, so you can tell a story any which way you like. They are more capable of making a complete imaginative leap. Kids are sophisticated readers — they get irony, they get sarcasm.
Adults have more of a notion of correctness. I misbehave more when I write for kids. The biggest challenge for me while writing this book was the fact that I had to change my voice.
What did you want the reader to take away from the book ?
As a writer, I don’t write anything with the intention of having the reader take away something specific. I write a book to tell a story.
From this book, I hope the reader laughs out loud. The book is tongue in cheek, it is satirical, and I want it to enable the reader to hold a mirror to society and to himself/herself. Hopefully, the readers will recognise bits of themselves in the book.
I find it interesting how in the book an educated journalist gets thrown into motherhood, after which all her schedules, and theories go for a toss. Her Mother-in-Law moves in, she finds people have advice for everything and that babies are notoriously inconsiderate! It is an ideal setup for her to look at a maid as the light at the end of the tunnel.
There has been a lot of talk over domestic help being treated badly in India — what are your views on the subject — is this touched upon in the book?
It is not new. I condemn it. It is because we live in a Downtown Abbey-type situation, where there is a world below the stairs and the world above it. I think that domestic help should be treated no less than a family member. I also think that formalising the sector would be good for everyone. The informal sector is unstable, and not good for either party.
This book is specifically about the maidless memsahib, so I have not recorded the issue you asked about. The point of the book was to explore that little precipitous space in an urban woman’s mind that can be turned upside down. I often hear people saying “my greatest fear is that my maid leaves”. I wanted to take that whisper and amplify it, and ask, does this look familiar?
The book also talks about how women have to juggle various things — how can we get men more involved in the process, and ease the burden on women?
The narrative that women are great at multitasking and that they can have it all is actually a disservice. If we do it all, we are putting a lot of pressure on ourselves. We need to raise sons who do more, and encourage our husbands to do more, without playing the gatekeeper. The protagonist of the book struggles with this perfection syndrome, and we do too. Independent women are told that they can have everything, but a big part of having everything is learning when to ask for help, and when to say no.
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