India, June 9 -- One minute Priti Prasad, 36, is running behind a one-year-old, begging her to finish her banana, the next, she is running into the next room to soothe a crying baby, returning with the infant hitched at her waist as she finishes feeding the fruit to the first little ward.
Prasad has been babysitting for six years, ever since her own daughter, Prachi, turned three.
"I have loved every day of it," she says. "After marriage, I wanted to work but I was not confident of finding a job. Since I have always loved babies, I chose this vocation."
Currently, Prasad babysits five children, aged 18 months to eight years. She also takes over from grandparents in the neighbourhood from time to time, babysitting their wards for a few hours when they need time off.
Unlike the more corporate facilities now available in the city, hers is a homely outfit run out of her four-bedroom Kandivli flat. The rates are homely too. Depending on the age of the child, Prasad charges Rs. 3,500 to Rs. 4,500 per month, which includes a daily home-cooked lunch.
A regular shift is 12 hours, but children often spend up to 14 hours with Prasad; she does not charge overtime.
"I know that a lot of places charge by the hour, but I don't want to cause parents additional stress," she says. "They often call to apologise because they have to work late or get delayed getting home. Given Mumbai's traffic, I completely understand. And anyway, what is the harm in spending more time with the kids?"
It's not always easy going, however.
Prasad laughingly admits that, what with caring for her home, her husband, a marketing manager, her in-laws and her nine-year-old, the pressure can sometimes cause frayed nerves.
"I also run a tailoring business, stitching blouses for some of my neighbours, so I'm always busy," she says.
A graduate in home sciences from Bihar, Prasad moved to Mumbai after marriage, 10 years ago.
She begins her day at 5 am, with an hour-long walk. Then it's time to make tea and breakfast for the family, after which she greets her first babies, at 10.30 am. As she makes lunch, the children pace up and down the house, singing alphabet rhymes.
The menu is different every day of the week. Keeping in mind health, nutrition and what the children like, Prasad serves up pav bhaji, Chinese noodles or mini pizzas.
"I make sure they eat everything, vegetables and all," she says. "In fact, I once got a call from a mother at 10 pm, asking how I make my dal because her son refused to eat hers."
In the midst of this hectic schedule, each of the toddlers must be guided to the toilet every 20 minutes, to avoid 'accidents'. "Their parents are very happy with the way I have toilet-trained them," she says.
After lunch, it's nap time, followed by tea time at 5 pm, when all the children line up for warm milk and the snacks packed for them by their parents.
By this time Prachi is back home from school, so Prasad gets her ready for her Marathi tutorial class.
At 6 pm, Prasad takes the children down to play, until their parents arrive to take them home. If the parents are delayed, Prachi takes over as their 'didi' or elder sister while Prasad makes dinner for the family.
Sundays are her day off. "That is my day to babysit my daughter," she says.
(This weekly feature explores the lives of those unseen Mumbaiites essential to your day)
Published by HT Syndication with permission from Hindustan Times.