the right to a friend


ponamma in chennai is widowed. she’s a housemaid at three homes. one of her employer’s can’t communicate without yelling. ponamma’s daughter is pregnant. and the dirty vessels at house number two wring out her hand.

but ponamma has lalitha. her friend across the fence. as lalitha washes an inskirt, and ponamma scrubs out the blackened pressure cooker, they share a laugh. lalitha mimics employer number 2, and ponamma covers her mouth with a vim-bar hand to stop herself from lol-ing.

Taki is Indonesian. she is a live-in maid, for a Malaysian family in Kuala Lumpur.
She stays indoors every single day of her annual contract. She minds the kids, changes the sheets, squeaky-cleans the mirrors, and pestle-pounds cinnamon for a masala chai. She doesnt share a common language with her employer. She’s allowed to watch TV, but not allowed a conversation with a friend.

It’s just over one year since I’ve lived here in Malaysia. i’ve watched from my sixthfloor window, snippets from the life of a maid in malaysia. and i really think the right to a friend is a basic right.


16 responses »

  1. Indeed a basic right. There is no worse punishment than forced seclusion.

    Empathy is becoming a rare emotion. Maids in mumbai are a parallel society on their own- if it wasn’t, they might not be able to survive either.

  2. so agree with you.

    on a tangent: how many of ‘us’ have real friends nearby anymore. someone to talk to / share with everyday. esp with our hectic, chaotic lives.

    we catch up with friends online, on the phone, or maybe once in a year….

  3. Blogeswari: i didn’t know that. thanks for telling me.

    sur: thanks for the link. it said so much more…
    ‘a life of silence’ is intensely cruel . is there a link for your film?

    In love: i loved how you’ve called valiamma a relative.

    richa: i see your point. we don’t have friends nearby — *except for my vada-sharing neighbour*
    … i have another theory on how we close our minds to warts-and-all friendships post school, and that growing up and getting an education gets us to be nit-picky .
    oh well that’s another post

    what got to me here is that when a maid speaks to someone it’s looked on with suspicion/ conspiracy theory/ plot to steal employers and run away…

    Era: lol!

  4. Couldn’t agree more on the friendship part. They enrich your lives. I think the reason it’s harder to make friends as you grow is now you have to find someone who you like but your family likes too 🙂

    As for maids, I hate it when they are given the low down. Devaki to us was as much family growing up and still will make sure to come by and give us a hug when we visit. Thanks to you I enjoyed the memories of her today 🙂

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