Friday, April 14, 2017

L is for Laundry #atozchallenge

When a newly qualified doctor of Indian origin claimed, "I don't mind washing clothes, it's the ironing that I can't stand." to try to fit in with his white British colleagues in 1974 at his surgery in North London, he failed miserably.

"Odd " was an adjective he acquired that first day at work and it stuck with him for  a very long time.

What his colleagues (who hadn't grown up in the India of the 60s and the 70s) didn't realise was that washing machines were not of a mechanical persuasion back home. They came in the human forms of kaam wali bai (house maid) or dhobi (washer-man) or mother or wife or father or brother or your own self. It all depended on the matrix of your family.

Clothes were soaked in Nirma washing powder for a couple of hours, then scrubbed and even beaten with a wooden spatula/bat called dummadi. Then the onerous task of wringing the clothes heavy with water followed. Not a problem if it's a cotton shirt but try wringing water from a thick cotton bed sheet. No one needed a gym those days and everyone was always fit. Last but not least, the clothes were hung to dry outdoors, mostly in partial shade to prevent bleaching of coloured clothes and yellowing of white ones.

Compare the above to choosing a setting on a machine, dropping some detergent and a bit of conditioner in the slots and pushing the button to 'wash' your clothes.

Odd indeed. What you don't know, you don't know.

My mother often told us how lucky we were when we were of 'wash-your-own-clothes' age because Nirma and Surf had surfaced by then. In her time, (sounded as Victorian to me as our time sounds to our children) they used to wash clothes with this bar of soap that removed dirt off clothes and skin off palms without discrimination.

One of my favourite laundry memory (yes, I'm a bit odd like that) is when Mummy used reetha (soap nuts) to wash her expensive cardigans at home. The sudsy seeds of this nut are such fun to play with.

But my most favourite laundry memory is about my Grandmother's dupattas. We called her Beji and I didn't know then but she definitely had OCD. Her pure white chiffon dupattas were always white and bright and immaculate. She wore the ones with lace around the edges.

But before I dive into this and one other memory, let me tell why I picked laundry for L. As some of you know, I was in Croatia when the A to Z Challenge started. Lo and behold--L was hanging right there in front of me--and such pretty pictures it made too:)
Sundays were laundry days when I was growing up. On Sundays, Darji (our Sikh neighbour) would sit in his veranda with his kesh (hair) all afloat in the air, looking more like Santa Claus than Darji to me. His turbans hung around him; the cloth open and spread out at different angles on various charpoys in the veranda or flying like flags from the banni (railings) The soft cotton fabric would slowly harden in the sun as the starch put on it would start to dry. I used to watch Neena didi (his daughter) gather the turban cloth (now stiff like poppadoms) and  make them into turban meringues --ready to be sent to the press-walla (the ironing guy).
Beji (my grandmother) washed her dupattas herself. She would squeeze out the soapy water ever so softly, her wrinkle ridden hands kneading the watery chiffon so carefully that the two gold bangles on her right wrist wouldn't even clink! Then came my favourite part--mixing 'neel' (a blue dye ). I think it's an indigo extract, but I'm not sure. Just a few drops would plop out of the squeezy sheeshee (bottle) and dive into the shallow bucket, half-filled with water. And like ink, neel would swirl and twirl and make hypnotic patterns. My job was to make sure it mixed well with the water, so that when Beji plunged her white dupattas in, the blue would give them the whiter than white glow and not blue splodges!

Six or seven of her bathed in blue (neel mein nahaye) dupattas would sit piled up on top of each other in baguette like forms waiting to be hand dried. Yes, you got that right. They weren't going to be hung like ordinary laundry on wires of steel and ropes of nylon. No, sir. They were Beji's pride and joy. 

Dupatta drying is a two women's job. You need a partner to do this properly.

This was my MOST favourite part of Sundays. My sister or mother or Beji or aunt (whoever was available to partner up) would hold two corners of the wet dupatta. I'd hold the other two (imagine spreading a picnic blanket with another pair of hands). Then both of us (holding to the corners and standing opposite each other at either end of the dupatta) would raise our arms and the dupatta would plump up like a parachute, followed by lowering the arms (still holding the dupatta). Imagine sending-smoke-signal-kinda-arm movements.

Every time the dupatta would come down, it would sprinkle us both with tiny drops of water. I loved that. A tiny patch of dry in the shape of a map would start appearing in the middle after a few ups and downs. Then the dry patch would spread and spread till almost all of the dupatta was dry, except the lace trimmed edges. The corners in our hands would be slightly damp when the adult partner would take over-- swiftly aligning the two edges together to fold Beji's dupatta and deposit it on the pile of other dried rectangles of white as snow chiffon, their lacy rims hanging over the edges.


What was your last laundry like?
Any mishaps you'd like to share?
Leaving you with a picture of a lighthouse...as long it's L, it'll do.
These pictures were taken in Split and Dubrovnik in the first week of April, 2017
Make hay when the sun shines or enjoy a Martini if it doesn't.
Meet you here tomorrow:)


27 comments:

  1. I usually resent the laundry for the time it takes to hand out and then fold and put it away (I think I may be a bit slower than most). But then i discovered podcasts that I could listen to at the same time and feel like I was being productive.

    My A to Z:
    too late smart

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    1. I used to listen to podcasts too...now I just put on my favourite music:)
      Thank you for visiting.

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  3. It is curious how things are different form one country to another. In my region, the laundry day was traditionally Saturday, and I recently learned (thanks to a postcard, of course!), than in the UK used to be Monday.

    Let me share with you a (short) album of postcards about one of my favourite themes!
    -----
    Eva - Mail Adventures

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    1. Mundane, day to day things are such powerful sources of human history. Don't you think?

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  4. Drifting from a doctors tale to your grandma's dupattas via images of Croatian laundry drying... It was a captivating read! Beautifully worded! Felt that this laundry saga should go on and on...and never end!
    -----------------------------------------
    Anagha from Team MocktailMommies
    Collage Of Life

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    1. Thank you so much Anagha:)
      There are a hamper full of laundry stories from my childhood. I may jot them all down one day..who knows.

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  5. Such beautiful images and memories - you've managed to make laundry seem like delightful poetry! I have a memory of getting a drop of bleach accidentally splashed onto my eyes when I was young. Thorough rinsing prevented any harm or problems, but I remember thinking while I was rinse, rinse, rinsing whether my brown eye would be tan when I was done. :-)

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    1. Ha! Ha! That is funny Deborah...funny and painful.
      Thanks for sharing and thank you for visiting.

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  6. I can still remember my mom getting her finger caught in an old mangle-style washing machine we used to have. I'm pretty sure Dad "disappeared" the machine soon after that, but it was a very cool thing to watch!

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    1. Ouch!
      Good Dad:)
      Did you tell your mom you found it cool?

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  7. When I went to visit my family in Africa, we washed some of our clothes by hand. My aunt had to show me how to properly wring the clothes, and then we hung them up on clothing lines in the shade. Since it was summer, they typically dried overnight and we collected them in the morning.

    It was a neat experience. ^^

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    1. It sounds like a great experience Marna. I still wash my tops by hand. There's a certain slowing down that happens when we do things like they used to in the days before machines. I like that.
      Thank you for visiting.

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  8. What is it about pictures of laundry hanging outside city windows that I adore so much?! I think, perhaps, it takes me back to (what I envision as) a simpler time. LOVELY...

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    1. Spot on Molly. That's it...a glimpse of a simpler life.

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  9. I've never been so fascinated with laundry! You have an excellent way to telling a story that pulls the listener in.
    I'd love to see Beji in her dupatta - is sounds so elegant!
    Lisa / Tales from the Love Shaque

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    1. Thank you your kind words Lisa. I wish I had a picture of Beji to share. She used to look so graceful.

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  10. Who knew there was so much to know about Laundry! Fascinating how much the photos of laundry drying in India looks alot laundry in New York City!

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    1. Thank you for visiting Toni. I took those pictures in Croatia recently. Next time I'm in NYC, I shall look out for laundry to click:)

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  11. That was a lot about Laundry but was an interesting and fun read! Took me back to Nirma advertisement that always played in DD, "washing powder nirma, washing powder nirma", and the little girl twirling around in the white frock.

    Celebrating 'Women & their work' all April @NamySaysSo L for Lopsided Balance

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    1. Yes, the ad was playing in my head when I was writing Namy.
      Thank you for visiting.

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  12. Delightful! Really enjoyed reading it.

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  13. You took me back memory lane....thank you.

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    1. Remember Beji's white dupattas Seema?

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  14. How beautifully you put your words that the scenes come alive in front of of your eyes...I could feel your biji's hands....your dupatta swaying away....and that mist touching your face...great post as usual!

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