Sunday, July 31, 2011

Laundry Day

Some days, living in India feels like camping in the outback. Many modern conveniences just aren't that common. The electric washer and dryer is one of them. The majority of homes don't employ such luxuries, mine included. Most have maids that come a few days a week and wash clothes, towels, and bedding. Anyone thinking of saving a few rupees a month and doing laundry themselves is out of their mind. Here I'll walk you through the standard Indian laundry regimen and you can decide for yourself how much your time is worth.
Two days per week, Lakshmi comes to do laundry. She starts by sorting clothes on the basis of light versus dark. In the wash area, which is just outside the second bedroom, there are two medium sized tubs that she piles the clothes into and adds detergent. Sounds simple enough, right? The fun begins when she begins hauling buckets of water outside one by one to fill the larger tubs as the outside spout doesn't work. She makes 6-8 trips from the kitchen to the wash area with these buckets of water until she has the tubs full. At that point she lets them soak for 10-15 minutes while she sweeps and scrubs floors and toilets inside.
After the clothes have soaked for some time, she begins hauling more water out to the wash area, does a brief swirl of the clothes in the soapy buckets, then start rinsing them in the fresh bucket she has just hauled out. Lakshmi then becomes the manual spin cycle. This is my least favorite part of the process because it involves her twisting my clothes into obscenely tight rope like objects and beating them against the ground in the wash area. It's as though she's taking a weeks worth of aggression out on my clothes and slapping them against the marble slab as though she's trying to beat the last inch of life out of them. I've asked her many times to take it easy during this part of the process, and even bought a bunch of extra hangers asking her to dip them nicely in a bucket of clean water and just hang them to dry, but old habits die hard and my clothes see their brief lives flash before their eyes each time they are in her hands.
Once she's satisfied with the "wringing" she's put them through, they are hung on the line for drying. Although she dedicates time and energy to abusing my clothes, she is extraordinarily efficient and can have all the laundry done in about an hour. Her fee for all of this work? Just rs100 per month (that's $2 USD).
After taking a beating from Lakshmi and even spending a few days drying on the line, I'm left with a pile of incredibly stiff, impossibly wrinkled pieces of cloth that once resembled department store purchases. I can promise you, every bit of it needs ironing, and there isn't an iron on the market that will take those wrinkles out. So what's a girl to do?
Let me introduce you to the ironing box. The ironing box is a mammoth beast of a "machine" that is filled with hot coals, only adding to the already impossible weight of the contraption. Ironing stands are every where on the street. They are typically make shift little shacks, with just a few sticks holding a tarp or a dilapidated billboard or other sign above a homemade table. This is not a glamorous job my friends. Imagine having to handle a 10+ pound iron contraption full of hot coals and spend all day in the 100+ degree Indian heat pressing clothes for others. It wouldn't be my first choice for a second career, but these stands typically have so much business that the pile of clothes yet to be ironed is taller then the person doing the ironing.

While they are generally successful in getting the wrinkles out, there is risk involved. It's not uncommon for the ironing box to get dirty and that dirt or soot or whatever it might be to transfer onto your clothes. It's also common that a piece of coal or other debris might fly out of the box and burn a hole in your outfit. But for the price of just rs4 (that's like 2 cents) per piece, it's worth the risk. And really, after the human spin cycle that is Lakshmi (and every other Hindustani I've seen washing clothes), it's your only option.


  1. oh i love getting my clothes ironed by one of those coal irons. its gives ditinct smell to your clothes. I don't think there are many coal irons used in mumbai or pune these days. Most of them have heavy electrical irons

  2. For anyone that has never had their clothes pressed by one of these coal irons, the smell Akshaya is referring to can be compared to the smell you get after sitting around the campfire.