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Sunday, April 3, 2011

Nightmaid on Elm Street

Disclaimer: The following story is not going to surprise anyone.

We let our maid go last week. This is the infamous Imtiaz who Suleiman claimed was my sweetheart. Anything but, as it turned out. She was hired a day after I landed in Karachi in January with my kids, exhausted and beleagured, looking to settle down again post-international move and desperate to get some rest. She immediately hit it off with my kids and came with the guarantee of someone who had the guarantee of someone else. So we hired Imtiaz.

We were initially a little unsettled by the new nanny's top-to-toe abaaya and nikab action. Who knew what hang-ups came with that garb? What if she refused to run to the store to get a packet of milk? What if we had to leave quickly and she was taking forever to get all the layers on? Even worse, what if she considered Azfar, the driver and the cleaner all na-mehram and I was doomed to have Darth Vader gliding around my house all day?

Our fears were misplaced. The moment Imtiaz's guarantor left, off came the abaaya and underneath it was revealed the most bejewelled, exceedingly pink jora I've ever seen in my life. I wouldn't be surprised if her previous employers are missing a chandelier. I'm still picking up the stray diamontees from that jora from around the house and am fully prepared for one to appear in Zain's potty one of these days. 

Next, a comprehensive collection of creams and cosmetics quickly got arrayed on her bathroom shelf. Imtiaz, as it turned out, was an early bloomer; and once she'd started, she wouldn't blooming stop. A week into her employment, Vader's dupatta was casually flung across her neck; two weeks later, it was nowhere to be seen. When she was going to her brother's house to visit, however, she'd appear from her room in Dark Lord mode. And when she would return from there, she'd bring more fantastic outfits with her. It was all extremely confusing.

One thing we realised quite early into her stay with us was that she loved talking on the phone. I'm pretty sure she must've had a post-paid connection because no phone card on Earth could let anyone talk for that long. (Our friend Sarfraz told us recently that his son's nanny has a similar issue and he is expecting her to grow an extra bone that'll help hold the phone between her ear and shoulder. He thinks it may lead to an evolved race of skewed-shoulder people.) Anyway, so we told Imtiaz that she should avoid the phone while she was working. We told her that it was unprofessional. She looked like she had no idea what we were talking about (professionalism? Whaaat?) but cut down on the calls. Now she would skip dinner and retire to her room early to talk on the phone.

By this time, I was beginning to imagine what might happen if one day Imtiaz's husband in Punjab, father of her five children, turned up at our door in Karachi to meet her and discovered that she'd absconded with a phone buddy three days earlier. Although technically she wasn't a minor, it was understood that because she lived in my house I was responsible for protecting her and her Virtue. (This is not an impossible scenario, btw. Another friend's maid ran off with the neighbour's driver one day and her family started harassing the employers about her disappearance, first lodging an FIR against them for abducting her and then going to a Minister to ask for justice. Unfortunately, my friend's brother-in-law looked like the classic villain you see on PTV, replete with white shalwar qamees and big moustache. Within a couple of days, there were television crews outside my friend's house, covering the tragedy of a young, innocent girl who'd been kidnapped by a rich man for his pleasure. The aforementioned rich man immediately pledged his cooperation to the police and, on HIS suggestion, when the police traced the girl's cell phone calls, it turned out she'd been talking to her family all along. They'd set the whole thing up to get money out of the employers. Yes, that was a very long incident to relate in parantheses.) 

(Ooh, wait, here's another one: yet another friend had an amazing nanny who worked with them for six years or something. When she left, they found out that she'd regularly been entertaining the neighbour's gardener and one other man in her quarter and had gotten pregnant TWICE during the period of her employment with them. There's no moral in this story; she got away with it.)

Things came to a head when Imtiaz suddenly took off on the 22nd of March with her brother, claiming that he was taking her to the doctor. After that, her phone was constantly off. When we got through to the brother, it turned out that he wasn't her brother at all... he was her cousin (if you're desi, you'll understand that that's a game changer). He wasn't even with her at the time and didn't know where she was. She didn't call again until the evening of 23rd March, which not-so-coincidentally happened to be a national holiday and the day of Pakistan's World Cup quarter-final match against West Indies. In fact, what really annoyed the hell out of Azfar was that she called right after the man-of-the-match ceremony!

We decided that evening that we weren't confident enough to keep Imtiaz as our children's nanny anymore. If we didn't trust her, we couldn't leave our kids with her. So we let her go.

What idiots! The house is in a mess, the children are upset, breakfast does not magically appear on the table every morning and lunchtime is complete pandemonium! Even the driver's annoyed because he doesn't get his tea on time (and sometimes not at all). We went today to an agency to check out another option for a nanny. We'd asked for a 40+ year-old with proper references this time and were confronted with a lady who was at least in her mid-sixties and couldn't remember her previous employers' name. It was extremely difficult to imagine this person trudging up and down the stairs with Solom, or sprinting after him in the park when he made his usual mad dash towards the road.

Bottom line: it's BEEN HELL! I've got work and laundry piling up and it's taken me eight days to write this blog entry! I'm drowning here! So if anyone in Karachi is migrating to Dubai or Chicago or wherever and is looking to pass on their amazing maid to a good household (yes, that's us) PLEASE LET ME KNOW.

And if you have a maid horror story, of course, do share so that I can convince myself that letting Imtiaz go was, in fact, the right thing to do and not the stupidest act on the face of the planet. Thanks.


  1. WHOA!

    I want to hear more about her clothes

  2. I hope her leaving the house had nothing to do with me...or Ali asking for tea 10 times a day!! At least I got to see the (in)famous Imtiaz before you let her go. Look at the bright side though...the room is yours!!!

  3. Aafs-- I went though 4 of them in 6 years when I used to live in Karachi and I totally sympathise with you!!! BTW all 4 of them had a "phone" issue and at that time they used to use the landline which meant I came dashing home early on numerous occassions from dinners and parties because i could not get through to my kids......

  4. M, the less said about those clothes, the better! Two days on the job, she went downstairs with my son and the landlady (who hadn't met me yet) thought she was me! I remember not finding it even half as funny as she did!

    Zahra, loving the room and the thandi thandi hawaaeyn. All ends tomorrow though (thank GOD... I'm willing to give up the best room in the house for some help).

    Saapa, WHO do they talk to for so long??

  5. I'm always surprised by this (somewhat) recent live-in nanny culture in Pakistan. We always had help growing up, but they were always men who were restricted to the kitchen most of the time. They weren't allowed to babysit the girls and their rooms were always outside of the house. Other cousins had maids but never full time. Kind of weirded out by nannies listening to conversations whenever I visit friends with kids.

    Imtiaz sounds like an unwanted pregnancy waiting to happen! You did the right thing!

  6. Fatima used to spit chhalia - randomly, quite inncuously, and in invisible amounts - while preparing us for bed or telling us some crappy story in the dark. Imagine your mattress feeling…well, grainy.

    Deal. With. That.

    Love your writing, M!

  7. S, I think the difference is that previously aayas and nannies were very much "don't be seen, don't be heard" sorts and were expected to stay with one family for life. Now we're looking at a different generation that operates freely on the labour market and has a higher standard of living, so aspires to a different kind of social status. I know Imtiaz liked to be a part of conversations. Took several hints over a couple of months to get the point across!

    Bhai, one word: EWWWW!!!

  8. Just came to your post on a return trip to maid's room to tell her to HANG THAT BLOODY PHONE UP and GO TO SLEEP! The irony of it...

    I seriously feel some days like I'm parenting three kids - two little ones and a teenager, replete with boyfriend woes, mood swings and a desperate commitment to fashion (yes, she wears her kurtis with skinny jeans, and so what if they came from itwaar bazaar?).

    Between the counseling sessions (maybe every maid needs to come with a free psychiatry course?) and the shopping trips (what, you think she went ALONE to buy those jeans?) - i am beat.

    Oh, and with regards to the cousin/phone issue - maybe you need to stick to my friend saira's prerequisites: lesbian maids only please. or at the very LEAST a man-hater. :)

    Good luck with the new one. xx

  9. I take it this story has progressed as of today, Saima?! Saw your FB status update!

  10. You want horror stories, I'm your (wo)man. Which one do you want? The one where the maid burnt my 7 mth old on the gas stove in the 45 minutes I went to buy veggies? Or the one who slapped my daughter and left finger marks on her cheek? or the one who walked out of the guard's room with her salwar in her hand? or the one who ... you get the picture. All the best with the maid business. I'm still struggling. Got here via Jammie's FB link and have spent the morning here.


  11. Oh. My. God. Okay, you win. You totally win.

    An update on the Imtiaz saga: a few weeks after we let her go, our landlady came to me and said, "Good thing she's gone. She wasn't right." So I'm like, "Meaning...?" And she told me that Imtiaz had apparently told other nannies and mothers, in the park where she used to take Solom to PLAY, that I used to HIT her. It seems that a lady even turned up at the house once, claiming that a nanny from here had complained of domestic abuse at the hands of her 'baaji'!!!!!!!

    Suffice to say, once the landlady had practically revived me with smelling salts and retrieved my EYEBALLS from off the GROUND, I explained to her that I would never hit a member of the domestic staff. She nodded and said, "I know, I know" but I couldn't shake the feeling that she would've supported me no matter what, even if I had actually been abusing the nanny. And nothing could change the fact that the entire neighbourhood now thought the same. It made me feel unsettled, almost dirty, for WEEKS.

  12. My first thought after reading this was that some day, somehow I hope I get to meet you so that we can exchange notes on maid-woes, because this sounds like a chapter straight out of my own life. I'm convinced I had Imtiaz's doppelganger in my home- well at least she sounds like an exact replica. Its uncanny! Going to brother's house (who later turned out to be cousin) and returning with fab outfits-check, phone habits- check, skipping meals to talk on the phone after being reprimanded-check, chandelier style outfits & personal cream & cosmetics store- check, uncanny interest in our lives, conversations, dress sense, furniture-check check check! She also had a husband and two kids in Nepal, who remained ghostly figures in the background.And she disappeared just like Imtiaz though the timing was slightly different! I'm glad she's gone though.
    And oh, in her super hep jeans and dazzling top I'm sure a lot of people mistook her for the memsaab and the grouchy looking, overweight frump in unwashed tracks, faded tee and baby on the hip (that would be,sigh, me) as the inappropriate looking nanny.

  13. Uff! Glad so many people understand! Did you keep anyone after that, Manasi?

  14. Yeah, clearly I'm not a quick learner. Kept one more after a long gap, and she left recently after 5.5 months (eloped with a boyfriend! her colorful social life nearly gave me an inferiority complex). Anyway, the thing is my daughter kind of got emotionally attached to her (she was a baby with the first one but now she's nearly three)while she clearly didn't care a hoot and that's kind off put me off nannies for life. I'm giving it a go on my own now, wobbly knees and all.

  15. Well, good luck Manasi. It's a damned if you do, damned if you don't kind of situation for someone like me but I hope you fare better!

  16. If I lived in Karachi, I would sooooo be your nanny!!!! Best family I have ever worked for! :)

  17. Hah! Thanks Nicole and believe me, LIKEWISE. Although you were more like an aunt of Solom's... like, a really committed aunt.