Chauffeurs. Parlourmaids. Cooks. Nannies. Gardeners. These professions were largely in vogue in the eighteenth and nineteenth century England steeped in nobility and aristocracy. During the past century, their numbers have dwindled greatly. Perhaps only the top 1% of the ultra rich in Europe and North America employ a domestic staff that includes more than three of the aforementioned professions.
Ironically in India (a country ruled by the British Crown for 250 years), the chauffeur, the maid, the cook, the nanny, and the gardener professions are seeing a resurgence like never before. A broad swath of the Indian middle class employ at least two service professionals per household.
The Indian chauffeur is called a driver. In most cases, the driver does just that – drive. A few of my friends have broadened the driver’s responsibilities to include handyman duties, paying utility bills, etc. My friend in Delhi refers to his driver fondly as his Man Friday and my friend in Bangalore refers to his primary driver (he employs a second for his wife’s car) as his Facilities Manager – both equally appropriate monikers for the services they are rendering. If you’ve driven on Indian roads even for a day, you will quickly appreciate the wisdom in outsourcing the driving chore. Vastly reduced stress, more time to snooze, process email on your Blackberry are just some of the benefits of having a driver. Of the 15-odd friends whom I met during my two-week trip, a whopping 80% employed a driver.
The cook is the second most important service professional in the new age Indian household. Of the 15-odd friends whom I met, 90% employed a cook. If you exclude families with stay-at-home-moms, the number shoots up to 100%. The cook either lives in or spends a good chunk of the day in the house. In some cases, the cook also doubles as a maid.
If you are a fan of P.G. Wodehouse (like me), you’ve probably read the exploits of The Inimitable Jeeves. Granted there are no butlers in the Indian household but the cook comes really close. On more than one occasion, the cooks in my friends’ households have shimmered up to me (the shimmering would make Jeeves proud) to enquire whether I’d like a cup of tea. Whether it’s the driver, the cook, the maid, or the facilities manager among my friends’ households, a common trait they displayed was their cheerful and genuine smile. Thus the association with that Wodehouse classic Service with a Smile when I began this post.