I think I have a new definition for “Third World”: it’s where it’s cheaper to hire a person than buy, rent or build a machine.
In Varanasi, I do my laundry in the shower bucket and then hire the woman on the corner to iron it. Ten rupees per item—about twenty cents. At my hotel, a thirteen-year-old boy starts on the third floor and sweeps the dirt downstairs, room by room and hall by hall, until it all goes out the lobby door. The broom is two feet of twigs on a foot-long handle, and he sweeps in a crouching position, moving sideways, a ninja of cleanliness. He is less expensive than a vacuum.
In India, as in South Africa, it’s not only a privilege but a responsibility to hire “help” if you are economically able. Gardener, houseboy, maid, driver, maintenance man, cook, laundress. Every one a job, every one money sent home to the village, every one someone who roots through your leavings in their area of responsibility, pulls the recyclables and the re-usables, sells them for extra income. Don’t pick up that bottle—you’re not being helpful. You’re taking the houseboy’s job.
My apartment this week came with a maid. Her name is Gulabi. She looks at me weird when I greet her and again when I thank her.