Sunday, October 5, 2008

An overheard conversation

Yesterday my baby sister was invited to the birthday party of a two-year old girl from her pre-Montessori. My other sister went with her to the party and reported back events that went something like this:

Setting: The vast if slightly wilted garden of a massive if slightly dull DHA bungalow. Two-year old boys and girls are jumping in a bouncing castle, rocking merrily in swings, running enthusiastically around the garden, scraping their knees on the driveway: in general doing what two-year olds usually do at a birthday party. Running behind this clutch of children – perhaps ten or twelve in number – are an equal number of very harassed looking Filipino nannies. They are holding the children's hands as they test the bouncing castle, bringing them food and water when they demand it and soothing the occasional temper tantrum. In one corner, the mothers, young women in their mid-twenties are sitting in comfortable garden chairs. They are wearing light, spring-coloured shalwar kameezes and huge branded sunglasses. In their bejeweled hands they are holding virgin pina coladas.

DHA homemaker 1: It is just horrible! My nanny ran off last week without a word.

DHA homemaker 2 (lowering her sunglasses): You don't say!

DHA homemaker 1: I have been running after Shahrik this entire week. I am so completely exhausted. You know this was the first time in these two years that I had to change a diaper. I just didn't know what to do. I had to call the sasu ma and you know how much she likes to gloat about these things.

DHA homemaker 3 (wrinkling her nose): Oh ho bichari! I don't know what I would do if I had to clean Zainab's poo.

DHA homemaker 1: Hai na? I was so furious. I called the agency and demanded an explanation. And you know what they told me? [dramatic pause] They told me that she has runaway with my neighbours' driver!

DHA homemaker 3 snorts. DHA homemaker 2 looks appalled.

DHA homemaker 2: Where was this woman from?

DHA homemaker 1 (struggling to remember): I'm not sure. I think she was Muslim. She wore a hijab. Indonesia, maybe.

DHA homemaker 2: Oh no! That's where you went wrong, dear. Always go for the Filipinos. They're all Christians or Buddhists or something. They wouldn't dream of running off with someone from here.

DHA homemaker 3 (nodding towards the Filipino nannies): But still. Even these ones are so problematic. Did you know by their contract with the agency, they can go home only once every two years. But mine had a little kid back home and she really wanted to visit. So Saleem – the senti man that he is – he agreed. Sent her back twice last year. And now she is always wanting to go back. I just called the agency before coming here. Told them that she was giving me too much trouble.

DHA homemaker 2 (sipping her pina colada): You just cannot give these people any freedom. The moment you do, it goes to their head. I don't let mine mingle with anyone. She doesn't leave the house without me. Why let her make friends with strangers? Next thing I know she'll come back with all sorts of demands. She stays at home. Buss. But then I have such a soft heart. I feel bad for her stuck in the house all the time, so every month or so I take her with me when I go shopping. [a contemplative pause] But they do lead a pretty good life.

All the other homemakers nod and murmur their agreement.

DHA homemaker 2: Can you imagine allowing a Pakistani masi to live in this kind of luxury? Still they show no appreciation. Always wanting more of this and more of that.

The homemakers all shake their heads in disappointment. DHA homemakers 1 and 3 fill their napkins full of hors d'oeuvres, clearly determined to smother their sorrows with food. A nanny in the background gets kicked in the shin by an exuberant little girl, who then promptly dissolves into tears. The party continues.

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