They both live in green pastures far away from the bustling city. They like the serenity of the lush greens with its silences that makes the chirping of birds audible. Just as they are about to make themselves feel at home, they realize that their men back in the city need them. One packs her bags, the other grabs her handbag. Both lunge onto separate buses towards the city, towards their second homes, to their men.
Their bus rides don’t carry the burden of a daily worker’s toil. One puts on bangles and feels the air of freedom, welcoming the city life that she had briefly put on hold. The other stares vacantly into nothingness with wide eyes that betray her youthful giddiness for the destination. They walk amidst skyscrapers and hordes of humans in a rut of working-class life. They enter high-rise apartment buildings whose swanky reception areas alone are enough to guess the bank balances of their residents. The guys at the reception desks nod as a daily act of recognition. They board the lifts, pace hurried now. They reach into their bags for the keys to the doors. They unlock and enter, removing their shoes first thing with speed of a long-formed habit. They analyse the tastefully done living rooms as if taking note of their domains, like mothers do after a day out. The spaciousness feels eerily lifeless and almost grateful to have human company. They are back to their serene environments, it feels. But it’s time to get to work.
The synchronicity of their morning routines isn’t all too surprising. After all, they both are women, and maids. So what if one is an Indian Hindu and the other a Turkish Muslim? So what if one looks at Mumbai with a wide-eyed wonder and the other navigates the European side of Istanbul with dismissive indifference? Both Netflix‘s Sir and Ethos give centrestage to two young maids serving two lonely young men in their all-too-big apartments. Sir‘s Ratna and Ethos‘s Meryem, by virtue of their profession, live around the edges of a boundary line that divides classes in metropolitan societies. But what’s interesting is the trajectory of their love for their employers. Ratna’s love for Ashwin differs from Meryem’s love for Sinan only due to one factor: their ages, or more specifically, the emotional maturity that only comes from collecting life experiences over the years.
Meryem’s love has traces of a repressed first crush that should have developed in high school. But as a hijabi in a conservative family dynamic, those feelings of blind infatuation are only showing up now. Her self-esteem gets a boost each time she discovers how indispensable she is to Sinan, this young man who doesn’t know how to take care of himself. Somehow washing a man’s underwear (probably her first and only real intimate experience with a man), unleashes the confidence that compels her to place dibs on him. Hers is a borrowed maturity that is cracked slowly through the 8-episode run of the show. She feels validated, her entity earns dignity, her blinkered worldview holds ground – something she has snatched from those morally loose, wayward people whose secularism has uprooted them. Meryem is grounded in her religion and for the longest time, she is hesitant to depart from her sheltered thoughts. She is a young woman repressed for so long that even when she becomes a babbler in front of her psychiatrist, she isn’t being honest to herself; she isn’t used to facing her feelings or even understanding them. Her confessions, unbeknownst to her, wear the garb of hypocrisy. It is not until halfway through the series that we learn that, like most first crushes, her one-sided story was based on an imaginary reciprocity from the other person, that it was all in her head, that Sinan actually never touches the desserts she leaves for him everyday, serving them to his one-night stands instead.
By contrast, Ratna’s love for Ashwin already has a foresight of its scheduled demise. She may not be much older than Meryem, but being a young widow has burdened her with far too much wisdom. Right from the beginning, her straight-backed posture, her accented and limited English (acquired mannerisms), her ultimate goal to find a career – all exhibit her clarity with herself and her sense of peace in the corner relegated to her by high society. The dreaming, youthful girl is behind her, and the woman in her place has learnt the ways to live in the corner, without those judgements or resentments that Meryem grapples with throughout the series.
Both maids are possessive about their men. All forms of love, no matter how raw or mature, fail to defy pangs of jealousy. One morning both Meryem and Ratna discover the women their men had spent the night with. Ratna swallows the bitterness with practised patience while Meryem considers it a betrayal that puts her off her selfless dedication. While Ratna becomes more reclusive, Meryem’s hyper-imaginative mind gets a crushing reality check.
In a way, Ratna is a grown-up version of Meryem. Maid or not, their love shows the evolution of a woman. Meryem will, no doubt, become Ratna in a few years. She will stop fantasising and she will be over that first love. She will stop culling self-worth from serving other men. She will want to make something of her life other than getting married. She will look at the posh Istanbul section with awe and embrace it as her own, just like Ratna gets her ‘new girl in the city’ song parading through the bazaars of Mumbai on a borrowed scooter. Her excitement is only for the goal that is inching closer everyday. Ratna has gone past thinking of her life in plurals. She wants a singular identity at par with the exalted status of her love for Ashwin.
The maid’s love is defined by the phase in her life the woman finds herself in and it seems like the objects of their love too inhabit different timelines of a man’s circle of life. Sinan is trying to overcome the crippling big-city loneliness through sex. Later on, we are shown his overbearing and clueless mother. No wonder then, that towards the end of the show, he sees Meryem in a drunken dream, maybe realising what he was longing for all along: a motherly affection and care that just gives and does not ask for anything in return. Season two will surely do more with this discovery. By contrast, Ashwin has got over that boyhood phase and, as a writer, has emotional maturity that has long expelled hormones from the equation. Both men though, at the end, crave a woman who cradles them in her sheer feminine presence, as well as a relationship whose language is purely caregiving. Maybe this desire will never leave men, no matter the age. For Ashwin, one can understand the bearings of a culture that has long equated caregiving with love. After all, the ideal Indian wife is a goddess of domesticity who can cater to the unsaid needs of her husband. It is natural that he would fall for Ratna, although his western outlook dictates that he respects her for her clear-headed ambitions (and he does), but ultimately, it is her mostly silent companionship that stirs the longings in him.
Similarly, for Sinan, the Kemalist principles he has been indoctrinated with lead him to chase women at top of their fields (a hotshot actress, a no-nonsense psychiatrist) but ultimately, he too, succumbs to the adolescent fantasy of having a woman to himself, a woman with a motherly gaze who treats him like a boy but lets him believe he is the man. Both Ratna and Meryem, though, reject that identity and receive something far more fulfilling towards the end. For Ratna, it’s her desire to call Ashwin by his name, and for Meryem, it’s the self-acknowledgement of her emotions.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.