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Contrasting ways of washing & ironing

Contrasting ways of washing & ironing

Shankar Gopalkrishnan

IN India, you take a lot of things for granted — something as elementary as washing and ironing clothes, for instance. You have a domestic help who comes to your home each day. The clothes are washed and hung up to dry in the balcony. Over the weekend, the ‘iron-wala’ is at your doorstep. You give him specific instructions: ‘I need this shirt and pair of trousers by the end of the day!’ Such customisation is possible.

Sure enough, by the end of the day, you have the ironed clothes home-delivered. In a couple of days, he brings back the entire load. You needn’t pay him right away. He keeps track of the record and every few months, you make a lump sum payment.

You unwrap the cloth bundle — the shirts and trousers are crisply ironed and stacked in a pile. Touch the cloth to the cheek and you feel the entrapped warmth. A subtle aroma of coal hangs about each dress. Each shirt has a newspaper backing to keep it stiff and straight. There is such precision to the entire process. The next day, you open the wardrobe and there are so many options to choose from!

True, this facility comes with a few trappings. Off and on, the iron-wala wants you to lend cash. Either there is a wedding in the family or some eventuality about which you cannot ask any question. ‘Every month, you can deduct Rs 500, and that way, you need not pay me,’ he says, coming up with detailed statistics. It is too confusing — you gloss over the calculation. The trust is total.

At times, he hangs around longer than usual. You wonder what the reason is. He shuffles his feet, scratches his head, and mumbles, ‘Deepavali is round the corner, something... a little bit you can spare, please?’

You now land up in the US. There is no outside help; the onus is entirely on you. If you rent an apartment, there is no washer-dryer at home. Every weekend, you head out with the basket of unwashed clothes to the community laundromat. You carry with you seven quarter coins for the washer, plus the detergent. After 45 minutes of washing, you come back. You shift the washed clothes to the dryer. Four more quarter coins are required to kickstart the dryer. Once the clothes emerge from the dryer, you hang them up in the closet. That’s it! No need to iron the clothes since they come out reasonably fluffy from the dryer. Plus, you learn to be less finicky!

Two contrasting paradigms are at work here — one, where you are part of a human story, unfolding each day, with several characters hanging around you. The other, where the mantra is plain and simple — ‘Self-help is the best help!’ (swayam kritam... su-kritam). Both models work. It is for you to choose!

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