This afternoon, I went grocery shopping with Sevrine. We were doing major shopping at HyperCITY, so Jude drove us. While this was not my first experience in an Indian grocery store, it was the first time that I went with an Indian. I learned a number of things on our excursion. Among them that when you leave the supermarket, you should give your receipt to the person at the baggage counter. He reviewed our receipt and handed Sevrine two bottles of Lysol disinfectant. When we got in the car, I asked Sevrine why. Evidently, they do that for promotional items. It is a “marketing gimmick.” Jude’s words, not mine.
But, I learned the most important lesson after our excursion: my place. When Sevrine and I exited the store, Jude was there waiting with the car to put the groceries in the boot (trunk). As we arrived at the flat, he noticed that there was a piece of construction equipment on my side of the car. He hailed one of the garage attendants and (evidently) told him to move the equipment so that I could get out of the car. Admittedly, the only word of what Jude said that I understood was “Madam” (that’s me), but the result of what he said was obvious. The idea that I would squeeze by the equipment was not acceptable. Next, as Jude was unloading the groceries from the boot, I went to pick up one of the bags and take it to the lift (elevator) with me. He said firmly but politely, “Please go stand in the lift.” I was not to lift a finger to help with the groceries. So, I did my part. I got in the lift. As we rode up, I got my keys ready and had them out. When we arrived on our floor, I opened the door and instructed Sevrine to put the groceries away while I took the dogs for a walk.
The idea that I would not drive to the store, carry my groceries to and from my car, or put them away is contrary to everything I know about being a strong, independent American woman. Brian started working in Mumbai in January, so I was alone in Texas for about three months. During that time, I made many trips to the grocery store by myself. I am perfectly capable of lifting a 40-lb bag of dog food into my car. But, it is not my capabilities that are in question when I do these things for myself. It is Jude’s or Sevrine’s capabilities that I am questioning. As an American, I have no frame of reference for how this employer-employee relationship should work. The closest frame of reference I have is Downton Abbey. Even that does not really reflect the complexity of class relationships here. Let’s hope life in India has a little less drama.