My parents were not rich, but we did have a Carson and a Mrs. Patmore. In Pakistan, domestic help was the norm—still is. And I am talking middle-class. Aurangzeb—our Carson equivalent—was the valet, chauffer, butler, handyman, staff manager, all in one. Assigned to Daddy by the Pakistan army, he prepared Daddy’s uniform every evening, polishing the brass buttons. In the evenings he would brief Daddy on the state of affairs, much like the Carson/Robert tete-e-tete. Daddy dressed like an English gentleman—impeccably; and Mummy was the epitome of beauty and elegance; a Robert and Cora of later 1900s.
Mummy never cooked. We had Mrs Patmore—I mean, Razia. In the kitchen, she reigned. When the milkman made his morning delivery of fresh-off-the-cow-organic milk, she watched him like a hawk, lest he cheat. When she grew old and frail, Mummy hired a Daisy to assist her. Whenever the Daisy complained to Mummy about Razia, Mummy would give her an earful on the chain-of-command. In her eighties, facing health issues, Mummy hired an O’Brien. And now the sparks really flew, as the O’Brien tried to impress on Razia that she being the Ladies Maid, had a direct line to Mummy, and so ‘shoo off.’
Mummy loved her profession—homemaker. She kept a sparkling home, but you never saw her mop the floor. Every morning the cleaning lady swept the house, squatting with a jharoo in hand. By the way, did I miss seeing a cleaning lady in Downton Abbey? Every morning, she would instruct Razia on the menu, then give Aurangzeb a shopping list and cash. Next morning, he would give Mummy an accounting, which she noted in her notebook. A Lady does not do laundry. Once a week, the dhobi came to the house. She would supervise him take inventory, making a laundry list in her notebook. He would then wrap the laundry in a sheet, and go on his way, returning a week later. There was no Anna to wait on me—I did say we were not rich. I took the trouble to do my own hair. And whereas I don’t remember, as babies we had an ayah—nannie.
So if we were not rich, how come we had all that help? Of course low labor cost was a big one, but it was also the culture—still is. And the Help guarded their territory with zeal. Should I stoop to pick up something, I would get intercepted with a reprimand, ‘This work is not for you.’
Our living quarters were upstairs; the kitchen was—you guessed it—downstairs. The domestic workers lived in adjoining quarters, off the kitchen. We ate in the dining room; they ate in the kitchen. We lived together as a family; they lived away from their families, who resided in the far off villages. Sad, and not fair. One year Aurangzeb went home to get married, and returned alone, visiting his wife on holidays. Razia was a widow—her children lived with their grandparents. My parents helped her children with their schooling; get jobs, and when they married, with the dowries. Their family problems became our family problems.
Mummy had the foresight to know that one day, this culture would die out. I was packed off to the College of Home Economics, to train me in homemaker skills, because as she said, “You are not going to have a cook when you get married.” Boy, was she right.
I landed in New York, freshly married, half expecting an Aurangzeb to carry my bags. Our first stop was the Supermarket. What a downer for a newly wed bride. I had never done grocery shopping. My husband, a New Yorker, picked out the produce, as I watched aghast. My Matthew Crawley handling vegetables! Back at the apartment, I was confronted with making dinner. I knew how to cook, but had never been responsible for it. Seeing the look on my face, my husband took charge and made dinner, sending me into another shock, as I watched the man of the house peel an onion. Eventually I got my act together, but boy, did I miss Razia.
Going back for a vacation in Pakistan was divine. No cleaning, no cooking, and someone to watch the baby while I took a nap. But now I felt awkward being waited upon. When I started to iron my clothes, Mummy stopped me, “Razia can do it.” I didn’t want Razia to do it. The do-it-yourself had rubbed off on me.
Was there ever a Sybil and Tom scenario in the households? Not that I know of. But Pollywood couldn’t resist. There was the movie Kaneez (Maid). And there were plenty of Rich Boy/Poor Girl movies, Chakori being a favorite.
Once someone tried to hire Aurangzeb away. He turned it down sayings, “Even if you offered me twice as much, I will stay with them. And if the Colonel (Daddy) pays me half as much, I will stay with them.” How did we know this? The person who tried to lure him away, told Daddy, saying, “I wanted you to know how much Aurangzeb values you.”
Aurangzeb stayed with my parents for almost 50 years, Razia for 40 years, leaving only when Daddy and Mummy passed away. As Mummy lay in rest, Aurangzeb and Razia cried harder than any of us. Daddy had settled a pension for them, and they live comfortably. They still come to visit when I go back. I was no Mary Crawley, but they certainly made me feel that way.