A domestic help has most kindly agreed to work for my husband and I. I must admit that I wasn’t exactly excited at the prospect of being “interviewed” by her (to borrow a phrase from a dear friend who has been rejected in such interviews a few times now), going by her size and age, but so far (day four) the going has been good (even though on day one, I shuddered when she lovingly called me ‘bachchey’!).
Our new help is a Pakistani Christian – not a Pakistani Punjabi Christian, but a Pakistani Sindhi Christian. She speaks excellent Urdu, with a good amount of English thrown in, unlike local Christians, most of whom speak Punjabi.
Since many members of the minority communities have dual names in Pakistan, our help too gave a Muslim name when she was interviewing me. However, when she came in to work, she revealed her real Christian name.
Call it cultural assimilation or whatever, I found it rather awkward when she greeted me with “As-salam-alaikum”; when she began a chore with “Bismillah”; when she retorted with “Inshallah next time”; or when she showered praise on our cats with “Mashallah kitni samajhdar hain”.
I am aware that most religious minorities in Pakistan speak like that but I decided to tell her that she needn’t prefix-suffix her sentences with Inshallah-Bimisllah-Mashallah in our home. “My dadi taught me to say Bismillah. It’s a habit,” she told me. I didn’t know what to say to that.
It just reminded me of another occasion, when a Hindu shopkeeper in Islamabad explained to me, “Hamari do ‘Eid’ hoti hain. Ek Diwali, ek Holi.” The shopkeeper told me his community didn’t feel harassed, didn’t want to relocate (they had strong business interests and were well off) but liked to keep a low profile – and, of course, the two names – one for local consumption, the other for near and dear ones.
Another time, I heard a Hindu priest in a television documentary saying “Allah chahega to sab theekh ho jayega”, and our predecessor’s domestic help referring to his ‘pooja ghar’ as ‘namaz ka kamra’.
As per her terms and conditions, our new help wanted Sundays off to go to church. I asked her if a lot of Christians go to church, and she remarked, “Arrey, bahut Christians hain yahan. Namaz padhne ki jagah nahin hoti.”