August 21, 2011
I found her in literature only once, hiding in Salman Rushdie’s short-story The Courter. London, 1962, an Indian nanny walking down a street in Kensington with the edge of her “red-hemmed white sari” in hand. Amah did the same as she cut through the pedestrian pathway at the end of our street, making a beeline for the 7-Eleven. But unlike Rushdie’s Kensington ayah, Amah never met and fell in love with the Eastern European hall porter of her employer’s building. She never had liaisons that involved a shared love of chess.
Amah came to Canada when I was eight weeks old. I was told that her husband beat her and drank, although I never met him and she never talked about the beatings. Romantic love was of no interest to her, and whenever she saw a couple kissing on television and in the movies she’d say “chee chee” in disgust and turn away. She arrived in our lives through the recommendation of an aunt in Delhi. Her previous charges had been the children of diplomats, although I couldn’t imagine Amah rotating through the three-year cycle of embassy employees.
Published in TOK: Writing the New Toronto, Book 2. Purchase the book to read the full piece.
Toronto locations referenced in this piece
“Now she would sit peacefully beside me in a sari and green jacket as I drove the two of us down the Danforth. We drank south Indian coffee and ate dosas at the Madras Dhaba. Afterwards we would cruise the video stores for the newest Bollywood titles . . . ” —Danforth
“As soon as I got my driver’s licence, I began driving her to Gerrard Street on the weekends. Saturdays had been her market days, when we would go to Little India for vegetables and bhel poori at Bombay Bhel . . . ” —Gerrard Street
“They drove and had friends and went out on weekends(to sing karaoke at the strip malls at Bathurst and Wilson).They were a new kind of Amah, supported by social networks, mobile. Young. Ninety percent of domestic caregivers in Canada were Filipino women . . . ” —Bathurst & Wilson