Back in my time, the growing years of a girl entailed being a part of household chores as a practice. (Since this is not a gender-bender piece, I wouldn’t stray into the boy-girl debate in domestic settings and would stay close to the story I want to tell.)
In my house, it was purely a part of helping mom with her never-ending duties. Little things like wiping rinsed utensils dry and putting them in the cupboard, pulling laundry off the cloth line and folding it, and occasionally sweeping the floor when the maid didn’t turn up used to fall on me. And truth be told, I hated every minute of it, although it called for very little time and effort. It vexed the lazy bones in me and I pulled a long face every time I got an instruction to get on the jobs. A long face – it was as far as I could go to show resistance. Mom would brook nothing more.
Life got much easier with time and automation, but certain chores still had to be done manually. Folding the laundry for instance. Or ironing. There are some things in life that you just don’t take a natural liking to, and these two tasks might fall under that category. Yet, we do what must be done, grudgingly and under obligation. The tedium of having to do something we detest is immense but having no bail-out option, we find new ways to get around them with our own little tricks and mind games.
For a long time now, I have had Thursdays earmarked for laundry. The clothes are washed and dry by evening, and the load is dumped on the seats in front of the TV. After an afternoon of three back-to-back classes, I slump on the sofa running a cursory glance at the pile waiting for my attention.
There was a time when the very sight would have inspired ire and irritation, but not anymore. My me-time is about to begin. With the TV running in the background, I pull out the clothes, one by one.
The first thing that strikes me is how in the 2+ years of work from home, most of our formal clothes have gone into hibernation. I miss the sillage of men’s perfume that used to waft from my husband’s shirt as I inhaled deeply while folding them. Each day it would be a different scent, all selected by me for shared use. I have a special thing for the woodsy masculine fragrances over the floral feminine ones.
Those shirts have now receded to some anonymous territory in the closet. I summon distant memories of the dapper look he wore every morning in his crisp office outfits. Now it is mostly tees and shorts that get repeated a boring number of times and a stubbly, unkempt look befitting a lovelorn hero.
But in the midst of those boring t-shirts, I find the ones that used to be my dad’s. The husband had brought back some tees after dad moved on, as a remembrance. Perhaps, it is for this reason that I allow the repetition. The memories associated with them are too precious to be tossed away, no matter how much the fabric has faded. Till they tear at the seams or bear a hole, they will stay. I find dad’s presence in the smallest crevices of my everyday life.
As I fold each garment, I remember a dear friend who first introduced me to the concept of using a fragrant fabric softener many years ago. I first smelled it in her house, got enamoured by it and I have stuck to the same brand and fragrance ever since. ‘Downy’ now reminds me of her. It brings to mind the good times of the past. Life has taken both of us on wild roller coasters, but the smell of ‘Downy’ is a reminder of how we still are connected in the undercurrents of our lives in tangible ways.
From the pile, I pick a dress that was bought for me by my sister, and I think of her fondly. Her trips to India always included a trial session of the clothes she had lugged for me from the US. I remember the joy in her face when I approved each of the pieces she had selected for me and when I squealed at how well they fitted me. I smile as I fold the synthetic tops filled with genuine sibling love and wonder why people are distanced by spaces so wide that years must pass before you meet and hold them in a tight hug again.
‘Why do you still keep these? The time you discarded them,’ suggests the husband as he walks in, watching me tuck a few frayed dresses into the cupboard. I throw an ‘I know what I am doing’ glance at him and continue stuffing the shelf with my so-done-with daily wear.
What does he know about the comfort of old, softened cotton in these days of scorching sun? They are past retirement – colours have turned white, designs have disappeared, and all that remains intact in them is the weave – but some things can’t be given superannuation because they hold huge value even after they are past their prime. What was starched and stiff once has now become comfy and cool. Things tempered by time cannot be thrown away in a hurry.
Then there are the itsy-bitsy things that we avoid speaking about in public but are integral to our sartorial needs. I call them the ABCs. They are like hidden emotions that we are loath to express openly but realize their significance and indispensability secretly.
The towels are where I linger for a long while. I wrap them around my hands, put them to my cheek, and feel them intensely before I begin to fold them. Not because I have any special love for them.
I have a curious problem. It is when I am in the shower that ideas burst forth in my head. A story, an article, precious thoughts and insights pop up only when I am there, completely powerless to document them. I hope to hold on to the thoughts till I can step out and get to my laptop, but thoughts have their own expiry time. It is as if they get soaped out or mopped up by my towel by the time I make a dash to the computer. How many such stories my towel must have soaked up and rinsed out in the machine, I wonder. My dalliance with the towels is a foolish attempt at reviving the lost ideas from its fibres, in vain.
And then the socks; those mysterious things that go in as pairs into the machine but return in singles! Although the use of socks has reduced with no office to go to, they remind me of the times I kept two similar but asymmetrical ones together and an unsuspecting husband wore them as it is to work, and we laughed about it silly when he returned.
‘What difference does it make?’ I would say. ‘Small things.’
Ever since I gave my laundry a generous space in my life, it has become a ceremony that I indulge in with joy and ease. It often takes me down memory lanes, triggers emotions that must have lain untapped for a long time, evokes a sense of calmness and at times even feels meditative.
Perhaps this is one way we could conduct all unsavoury tasks in our daily lives and convert the monotony to something pleasurable and satisfying. The joy, in the end, is not in the task itself, but in the manner in which it is approached and undertaken, yeah?
I am working on it in earnest.
- Asha Iyer Kumar