The Maid, A legacy of the British Raj

M G Singh By M G Singh, 8th Jan 2012 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Family>Daily Life

The Maid culture is a British legacy and it is now deeply rooted in India.

Maid Culture

The maid or in India the Amah or Ayah has had a traumatic effect on family life. One reads many books by Victorian writers that parrot the lines “Master! Was I good? In fact the genesis of the maid as a part-time mistress really commences from this Victorian period. Sex then was taboo and this resulted in the concept of the maid as a mistress and companion. It was discreet and the master could indulge in his fantasies.

‘Before the Rains’

Some time back there was an excellent movie starring Rahul Bose titled’ Before the rains’. This movie in fact was an exposition of the maid culture in India. The movie set in south India brings to the fore the maid culture in all its glory or importance. The movie has the backdrop of the last days of the Raj. It also shows that the maid culture was introduced in India by the English rulers. It was a part of the permissive atmosphere which the British rulers savored when their families had gone for long periods, sometimes running into months to ‘home’, which referred to England. The period of absence of the family and the wife was pretty long as one recollects that a ship from Bombay to the UK took nearly a month in those days, when travel by air was not heard off.

Loneliness of the Sahib

It is to the credit of the British rulers that they opened up India as never before. They travelled and lived in far of places, some of then inaccessible for long periods as they helped administer the country. The spin-off was development for India. In remote places like the Nilgiri hills or the tea plantations of Darjeeling or Assam and the mountains of Uttarkhand, the British bosses lived a lonely life. In case their families went away to England it was inevitable that their place was filled by the Indian maid. The maid looked after the house and it was not uncommon for the Master to bed the maid as well. This was an accepted norm and no eyebrows were raised, though the lady of the house coming back from England when faced with such a situation would fret and fume. There was unpleasantness, but it was accepted as a hazard that was a spin-off for the pleasure that the master had indulged in.

Maids and British Masters

Many maids did conceive as well and that spawned a breed of Anglo-Indians, that are today a reminder of this liaison with the British master. It must be understood that very little coercion took part in this activity and it is on record that many or I can say most Indian maids did fancy the master of the house. This is excellently illustrated on the screen in ‘After the rains’. Indian women loved to work as maids and the local villager’s husbands and fathers all accepted this. Nandita Bose turns in a stellar performance as the maid who loves the English master in this movie.

The Mem Sahib

The British ruled India for nearly 200 years and during this period the maid or amah became a permanent fixture in a colonial household. The lady wives were also completely dependent on the maids who did everything from washing clothes, tending the children and garden, cooking and house keeping. In addition as the British rulers lived in large mansions, more than one maid worked in a house hold. Coming from dreary England with its smog and fog, the English house wife never had it so good. They loved this life. Thus the concept of the ‘Mem sahib’ or white lady boss gained credence.

The British masters however on leaving India never took the maids to England and their dalliance was confined to India.

A Legacy ?

The British left India in 1947, but the maid culture stayed behind. It is not like what it was during the days of the Raj, but the trappings are similar. But the period of the Raj is a nostalgic episode in Indian history. It is one period that can never be erased and has led to everything that we see today as a tribute to the Raj. It was a romantic age and as yet full justice has not been done to this period. Along with other legacies of the Raj, the maid or Amah is one of them as well.


Amah, British Rule, Maid, Sahibs, Servants, The Raj

Meet the author

author avatar M G Singh
A man who spent his early years in Air Force. An avid writer with over 6000 articles and 60 short stories published.Two novels on the anvil for publication.

Share this page

moderator johnnydod moderated this page.
If you have any complaints about this content, please let us know


author avatar johnnydod
9th Jan 2012 (#)

We had it all done and dusted in those days

Reply to this comment

author avatar M G Singh
10th Jan 2012 (#)

Thank you jhonydod for your comment

Reply to this comment

author avatar Sheila Newton
10th Jan 2012 (#)

Such an interesting article, Madan.

Reply to this comment

author avatar M G Singh
10th Jan 2012 (#)

thank you Sheila

Reply to this comment

author avatar ittech
16th Jan 2012 (#)

thanks for share

Reply to this comment

author avatar M G Singh
16th Jan 2012 (#)

Thank you ittech

Reply to this comment

author avatar Sudhir
4th Dec 2012 (#)

Most people enjoying the "service" of maids back then, esp the women of the house were probably too poor off to afford a maid back home.All they could afford was a slavey(young maid for 6 pounds/year) who did all the work and was inexperienced.

In India these declassy British women had an army of servants that could make dear old victoria jealous!

BTW I am sure most of these maids were coerced by those ugly british sahibs(who are notorious for being butt ugly even today!) back then.

To think some neo-colonial hangover movie is an accurate teller of maid-sahib relations back then is a joke.The british did'nt give taxpayers full citizenship and rights in India back then, imagine the conditions of these maids!They had no rights.They were poor(no freebies unlike today) and their parents sold them to work as maids.Period.These slave masters used them in every inconcievable way.

Decolonise your mind, we should'nt talk bad about our own people..and FYI, regardless of what you would like to think , its these maids and not those sahibs who are our ppl!

Reply to this comment

Add a comment
Can't login?