The Help

While Fayes T Kantawala was away on holiday, the cook took over the bedroom

The Help
I’m so proud of you. You made it to the other side, so I shout with glee from across the oceans that keep us apart: well done! Also, you look so thin it’s not even funny. Your hair is shiny (or scalp, as the case may be) and I can see you’re positively glowing with discipline. Seriously, be happy. Because a month of fasting, of getting up at dawn and enduring the unmitigated ordeal of body-and-mouth odors is trying enough without the added insult of an inhumanly humid summer. Here you are, skeletal but pious, and you totally deserve having that cigarette in the bathroom after experiencing the novelty of having lunch again. In short, Eid mubarik!

As I write this, it seems increasingly unlikely that I will have made it back to Pakistan for Eid (tragedy/miracle). Everyone I know who spent Ramzan in the homeland was extremely cranky for the past month, and so I found myself calling people there less and less so as to maintain my newly found and extremely fragile positive outlook on life. Still, I have left an empty house and I needed make sure my cook was still sane and not writing on walls with his blood.


If only I was so lucky; turns out disaster has struck my life back home. Not blood-related but still very vexing. In a rape of my trust, my newfound help has apparently spent the last three months sleeping in my bedroom and running up exorbitant electricity charges as he ran all the air conditioners in my house for what I can only imagine were debaucheries and Evenings of Sin. Can you imagine? Actually, I’m sure you can. Everyone warned me about leaving a relatively recent hire in charge of a home for months with no 24-hour supervision. I confess I had momentary panic attacks when I pictured him breaking into my cupboards and stealing stuff with a crooked grin, but quickly put aide the thoughts as classist assumptions.  I don’t yet know whether he actually stole anything or not, a fear only somewhat mitigated by the fact that I don’t actually have anything of value other than a TV (and an unmentionably unflattering but horrifically expensive shirt I was tricked into buying in London a few years ago by a beautiful but wily shop assistant) but I’ll find out when I get back. Part of me always thought my manservant hated me, and after I saw the movie “The Help” it took serious effort to not think he was getting creative with the cooking. It’s my own fault, really. The sad thing about people in Pakistan (from across the societal spectrum) is that being respectful or polite to those less powerful than yourself is often perceived as a weakness, one to be exploited as much as possible. The national habit usually dissuades you from being nice, and eventually you turn into one of those awful aunties who believe belittling people is the same as commanding their respect.

[quote]He ran all the air-conditioners in my house for what I can only imagine were Evenings of Sin[/quote]

My lovely parents, bless them, have kept a watchful eye on my place in my absence and have informed me that my cook has gone on leave to his village, intends to get married and is unlikely to return. He has left his brother in his stead, a spy to my imagination who needs to be replaced the hour I get back. After years of making fun of the Botoxed blondes with domestic staff issues (I’m actually grateful they can talk of little else; hearing some of their opinions on war or politics is like having an unwanted enema), I can now say “It’s really hard to find good help these days” without shame or irony. Isn’t that tragic? My family, myself included, has a habit of not sharing bad news over the phone with people who are traveling in remote corners of the world (one of us had once an accident that ended in a brief coma followed by good health, and the episode was described over the telephone as a “slight mishap”) in a sweet effort to keep people from worrying. The downside is that upon one’s return there is usually a Pandora’s box of backlogged disasters with your name on it. Sensing that the Runaway Cook was not my only trouble, I pushed to find out more. Well, as ever in Pakistan the good news just kept on coming. Other summer updates about my house I was given included, but are not limited to, how 1) my place has no gas (at all, like, ever); 2) the house has no electricity for up to seventeen hours a day, turning my tiny UPS into more of a UPMS; and finally 3) I have no running water. If you really think about it – which I try not to do – living there is like living in a bygone century. Without the help.