The question is so common since our repatriation that we’ve joked about creating business cards summarizing our answers in an easy-to-read bulleted format. It’s the ice breaker du jour—a convenient, six-word sentence uttered by virtually everyone familiar with our recent two-year hiatus from U.S. residency. It’s a crowd-pleasing, comfortable, mildly depressing party question that evokes a fair bit of stammering, questionable statements, and creative explanations on our part. It’s a question you shouldn’t ask lightly—because you might just get an answer that surprises, or delights, or possibly sets one off balance in a way that leaves you wondering why you asked in the first place.
Among domestic help, maids are arguably the second most important member of the expat staff. India is a breeding ground for bacteria, ash, pollution, and dust, all piled atop normal wear and tear like heaping mounds of peanuts on an environmental ice cream sundae that sends Oscar the Grouch cowering in the depths of his garbage can. The best way to keep up with the tidal wave of needed cleaning is to hire the right maid.
A driver is not just a driver, he is an expat’s Indian ambassador. Finding a good driver takes effort and a fair bit of luck, but it’s worth every minute spent preparing, interviewing, evaluating, and praying on the off chance Ganesha will remove any obstacles to hiring the best of the best. Unfortunately, even the most diligent expat can end up with a dud that is far more trouble than he’s worth. But once the right driver is hired, everything India is easier.
Most expats are unaccustomed to having help around the house—unless we have children, or as we used to call our kids, “little indentured servants.” Indian drivers, housekeepers, nannies, and cooks are foreign concepts—no pun intended. But in India, most of the places you’ll consider living have servant’s quarters, a separate servant’s entrance, and potentially a separate elevator. What is a normal part of affluent Indian life seems quite absurd to many of us.
It was silly early in India. At 5:00 AM the sun hid beyond the horizon, reflected light casting shadows over a dusty landscape dotted with multistory flats and makeshift tenements. There are few sounds, save a crow’s piercing squawk, a cow’s soulful moo, and the hum of the nearby concrete manufacturing facility. The unmistakable smell of burning plastic, wet wood, and cow dung permeate the dining room—a recurring beginning on a Newbie writer’s journey.