Sleepless in Mumbai

|Sleepless in Mumbai

July, 2020

A glimpse into a day in the life of a domestic worker in Mumbai through her very own eyes

6 minutes read

Meet Seema. Seema is a 32-year-old domestic worker. She lives in Mumbai with her husband and three children. She’s originally from Ranchi. She moved to the city 7 years ago to look for a job. Her husband, Rakesh, does menial jobs when he can find any. Presently, he has been unemployed for the past few weeks. Seema lives in a one-room flat in Dadar. She recently brought a small TV with her savings for her children- they’re exhilarated.

Seema is having trouble sleeping tonight. She will start working at a new house tomorrow. Her colleague Rama, whom she met through an NGO, helped her find it. She had to look for a new job to pay for the ever-increasing expenses. Her youngest will start school next year, her mother’s health back home has been worsening and her husband’s debts need to be paid off. She wants her children to have a decent education so that they can have a brighter future.

She recalls how she, as a 12 year old, had to drop out of school and start cleaning homes after the sudden demise of her father. The possibility of her daughter following in her footsteps if anything were to happen to her, is one of her deepest fears.

There is a lot of bustle in the house in the morning. The older kids are getting dressed for school. Seema is busy packing their lunch. She woke up an hour earlier to get the chores done. As soon as the kids leave for school with Rakesh, Seema hurriedly gets dressed for work and drops off the baby at her neighbour’s. It’s been raining heavily for the past few days. She rushes out of the house as she cannot afford to be late thrice in the same week.

She finally arrives at her workplace, the Pillai’s, and quickly gets to work. She has been working here for more than 6 years now. However, she does the cleaning and laundry but not does not cook due to differences in cuisine styles (Her employers are Tamilians). She even used to have trouble understanding them during her initial months. Memsahib lives with her elderly husband. They have two daughters, both settled abroad. She has a good relationship with them. She keeps them company and they always extend aid to her when in need. Last month, they helped her open a bank account to deposit her savings. Today, Mrs. Pillai is discussing her daughter who received a job offer.

Seema secretly also plans to send her daughter to “America” one day. She hasn’t told anyone about this for the fear of being ridiculed.

At around 2.00 pm, after finishing work at two other houses, Seema rushes home to prepare lunch for the kids. Rakesh, after bringing the children home, has left to meet some friends. The next house is her new job. Unlike the others, this one is quite far from her colony so will have to take a rickshaw (another added expense). As soon as the kids finish their food, she instructs them to start with the homework and leaves the baby in their charge.

Seema dislikes going to unfamiliar places alone due to a traumatic experience she had suffered three years ago. She has even rejected multiple jobs in the past for this reason. After looking around for 10 minutes in the new locality, she finally finds the right house, to her relief. A few seconds after she rings the bell, a woman, presumably Mrs. Mehra, opens the door and both of them take a moment to assess each other. She asks Seema a few basic questions about herself and swiftly moves on to discussing the work- dishes in the evening, laundry every three days, cooking twice a day, and babysitting the two children on Sundays. Next, they discuss the wages (This bit has always made Seema nervous. She is not a good bargainer and ends up settling for inadequate wages for the fear of losing the opportunity.) They finally agree on an amount (Rs. 1000 less than what Seema was wishing for). Mrs. Mehra tells her that she’ll be allowed to take 5 paid leaves a month. This astonishes Seema, who has never been allowed more than 2 paid leaves in a month. Without wasting further time, she quickly gets to work.

It is past 8.00 pm by the time she returns back home. She sits down for 15 minutes in front of the TV. Her limbs hurt more than usual today due to the extra work. As soon as she feels a little rested, she gets up to finish the chores. Once that is done, she resumes working on the blouses. She has been learning tailor work. She wishes to pursue that as a full-time job someday.

It is almost 11.00 pm. The children are in bed. Rakesh still hasn’t returned. Seema is almost done with the dishes when she hears him enter the house. He looks drunk and disheveled. Seema knows he is in the mood for a brawl, which has become increasingly common now.

Seema finally goes to bed post-midnight. Tonight, she doesn’t have trouble falling asleep. She is bone tired but also content. Her first day at the new house went better than expected. Today had its own set of problems, just like every other day, but as she looks over her children sleeping soundly, her eyes glimmer with hope.


  • Remote interviews conducted by the team at Women’s Identity and Progress


2020-08-29T06:32:48+00:00 July, 2020|Tags: , , , |3 Comments


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