Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Laundry at Uncle Sam's

It struck me yesterday again. Nine years into marriage, nine years in US. Unwillingly I dragged myself to the laundry room with my toddler hanging on one side and a big pile of laundry on the other. Yet another day to drudge, I said to myself. As I entered the laundry room, I saw three more ladies, all Indians. I knew two of them. Each was busy sorting through her mountains of linens. Inadvertently I smiled. I decided to write on this whole experience and joked with one of my friend there. 'See, we are all washing ladies.'

A little bit about those who were there that day. One of them was an MBA. I myself hold an M.Phil and NET. The other two ladies seemed well-educated too. We all were house-wives here. In this land of opportunities, as they say, we were our own domestic helps. There is nothing wrong in doing one's own work. It just simply looked like a mismatch, an incongruity of some sort as each of us waited to take turns, asking at the same time if the machines were working fine. If they were not, it meant spending additional hours on the monotonous task. The machines had been installed for making our work easier. But out of the four washers, one was mostly in a non-working condition. Same with dryers. One of them would leave your clothes damp after one full hour of drying. Tell me I don't miss drying my clothes on a clothesline in India where the warmth of sun turned them crispy fresh and huggable.

I mused how in the past nine years, I have waited and waited as clothes mounted and stacked on each other till the day they would be washed. It was like a ritual you did every few days. It came with its own protocol. There had to be a regularity in the observance of this routine for if you missed it on the allotted day, it would hang around your neck much like Coleridge's albatross. You might land up in the laundry room on an overcrowded day and the trips would become endless with you sandwiched between your own bags. Multiply your woes if it was winter and snow had kissed the ground!

It was different in India. Washing clothes happened everyday or every alternate day. There was an option to wash with hands or use a washing machine. A washer man or a washer woman was always handy. But drying was almost always in the open. The sky would look down at the colorful porch or backyard. Sun was mostly smiling, aiding the drying process. When the weather turned rainy or stormy, I remember my mom running outside to collect the clothes. As I grew up, I enjoyed helping her in this. I can still feel the raindrops trickling down, tickling my face as I rush to remove clothes from the clothesline. Pegs would scatter here and there. How colorful they were too. I remember fiddling with them until they snapped and I would spend a few minutes putting them back together only to break them apart again. It had its own joy.

Pegs in India were the colors of rainbow!

But a journey across the globe, the passage from a developing to a developed country changed it all. Nine years back, I had dreams of becoming a successful professional. But with marriage came the tag 'dependent'. And it was there to stay. When you land up with no work authorization, you often wonder what next. You join the herd of other well-qualified Indian ladies who have remained at home while hubbies go out to chase their dreams. You do the dishes, cook food, clean the toilets, mop the floor, clean the carpet and wash the clothes.

I folded my clothes the moment I brought them back home. (Sometimes I don't get the chance to do that as there are kids and other household chores.) I have seen some people do it there, in the laundry room itself. Some do it so slowly that they almost kill you with their 'speed'. Some take the clothes out from the machine one by one. One cloth after another, as each one is straightened out and carefully put in the basket in order to avoid extra ironing.(Those who are from India will again remember the washer woman who used to take their clothes for ironing and would return in the evening with the carefully organized bundle.) They drown themselves so much in the soporific task at hand that they overlook the fact that somebody is waiting behind them. They are hard to awaken until they are nudged verbally. 'Excuse me. Are you going to use the machine again?' The 'speed' quickens and you become the genie of the washer/dryer for the next hour or so.

Although it seems impolite, but it is something you cannot avoid. Everything is public. Your clothes, your style of washing, the choice of your laundry bags and baskets. Some people surprise you with their aesthetic gear while others just carry the clothes in big Hefty bags. Each according to his/her taste or convenience. Some leave you scorning and sneering because they wash their sports shoes in the machines too. Yikes! I am never going to use this machine again,  you hear yourself cribbing!

Laundry rooms, apart from doing the washing, serve another purpose as well. You are a nanny, you advertise yourself there. You are moving and need to sell everything...even your used but in-good-condition toaster, you put an ad there. You want to start a hobby class, pin a poster of information on the board in the laundry room. I myself have 'sold' my sofa and other stuff through this simple and inexpensive medium when I shifted. You want to learn guitar or take piano lessons at an affordable price, what do you do? Yes you guessed it right - Go to the laundry room!

Laundry at Uncle Sam's misses the sun though. No basking in the brightest star's warmth here. Even sun rays don't permeate the room as it lies in the basement. But it remains a predominant part of your life, much like the sun. Just as the days become gloomy without Mr. Sun smiling, the countenance becomes murky with your clothes piling and you itch for a trip to you know where!

My friends who have laundry machines in their apartments or those who are home-owners often complain about the tediousness of the affair. I cannot restrain my smile thinking about how banal it would be for me if it were not for my kids. My six year old hops like a monkey because he wants to charge the card and start the humming of the machine. And my 20-month daughter chants....Yaundly Yoom!

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  1. Yaudly yoom made me smile. A smile at the end of the post is a good sign to avoid the pity for the mamma. Sports shoes being washed in the machine! Yuck! I liked the part about the laundry room becoming the advertising room for one's skills and 'buy-sell'. 11 years ago, I used to be washing in the building's basement, the laundry room and wondering if my education was getting tumbled upside down in the washers and dryers too. Thankfully destiny intervened and I returned to India after 6 months, back to my professional life. This post brought back too many memories of my brief life in US.

  2. A world totally different for me. Enjoyed reading the narrative with its subtle humor.