All the cleaning works in the hostel are done by the contract workers. These hostel ‘ammas’ deem it absolutely essential to clean the hostel ground (the cement quadrangle, mind you, not just the tiled floor) – scrape, scratch every speck of mud and empty the water tank and leave the hostel water-less. They pack their bags and leave at 4pm. I’m the one who faces a dry toilet when I come back to hostel at night. They even keep rubbing the steps, hoping to make them shine perhaps (I wonder if they are competing to make Rohini win the ‘cleanest hostel’ award). If you protest, they claim there’s water and so they are doing it. If you protest vehemently, they say you must speak to the supervisor. So you go hunting for the supervisor, who’d be twirling her thumbs in some corner of the hostel. She agrees to halt it and asks you to write a letter, stating why you stopped them from doing their ‘duty’.
This was just one day. I haven’t stopped them after that. How do you convince them you only want a decently clean hostel and not a sparkling clean one, at the cost of already scarce water?
I sight no cobweb on my door and the paint is fresh. Yet cleaning my room door from the outside has suddenly become vital for their survival – it’s among their list of ‘duties’. When I hear a maid scraping outside my door at 8 or 9 in the morning – door knob and latch rattling, feet shuffling – removing imaginary dirt, I must tune myself to become deaf. I must ignore the urge to open the door and ask her to go clean some other door and leave me in peace. I wonder if the new contract workers’ workload has been increased to make the worker’s or student’s life more miserable.
At least the contract workers work; the permanent employees bask in sunshine. When I ask, I’m told that the hostel office has told them to ‘just come and sit in the hostel and do nothing’. So you see them bathing, eating, chatting; and they get twice the stipend that a final year PhD student does.
Another mounting irritation is things that go missing. What do the maids do with the mugs in the toilets after cleaning them? Take it home? I suppose, since I use the toilets, it’s my solemn duty to go chasing after the maids, asking her, in my broken Kannada, where the mugs are. After every bout of cleaning, I must threaten to complain to the hostel office and then the mugs will be kept back in place. Fortunately, my friend and I take turns at this so I have someone to share the burden.
The maids (especially the permanent workers) have a habit of conveniently bathing in the hostel. The time they take to finish the job is many fold that of an average student. On days when there’s water in only one bathroom, if you find an ‘amma’ inside it, you feel like breaking the door. To cap this, they wash their clothes in gallons of water and the amma’s daughter and grand-daughter also bathe here.
My tolerance valve burst when one day I found my bucket missing. I went looking for an ‘amma’ and asked her if she knew what had happened to it (there are no secrets between them). She said some amma had taken it. I said I wanted to bathe and wanted it back. She called out some name and that person answered from inside the bathroom saying she’ll give it soon. I went livid – the gall of the woman! Does she have no better job here than bathe? And is this why the institute employs her? Like a brawling fisherwoman, I fumed and ranted at her, demanding my bucket back. After a few minutes of losing my temper, energy, time, she put out a hand and let my bucket out. This time I did complain to the supervisor.
I suppose I must adopt the ‘chalta hai’ attitude and move on. Who cares how much water is wasted? If there’s no water, just complain to hostel office and fret and fume when nothing happens. Why let the maids’ new unnecessary duties and misbehaviour bother you? You’ll get used to it. After all, they say, even sitting on nails can become a habit.
Smrithi Murthy (MRDG), with inputs from Monisha Bhattacharya (CES)