Laundry diaries

Laundry diaries

Most beautiful lessons in life come from the most unconventional teachers.

Any girl who has spent her student life in a hostel knows how agonising the word dhobi is. With tales of expensive dupattas being toasted black and the mystery of the whites catching the blues, entrusting your wardrobe with the dhobi is repeatedly seconded as a high risk venture. It was therefore with much reluctance that I approached the dhobi in my university hostel.

A seventy-something lady, she was fondly addressed as dhobi aunty by everyone. Brushing aside all doubts about the efficiency of her crinkled arms, I handed her my clothes with just one special instruction: To be washed separately in a hypoallergenic detergent.

No, I wasn’t a snob. The real problem was a recurrent skin allergy. Visibly irritated by this demand, she declared that my clothes would be soaked along with everyone else’s, any separate washing being too much of a trouble for her cricking knees. The first wash went off fine. All the reds were red, and well, most of the whites were white. But the allergy soon surfaced and my skin blistered. She seemed to notice it carefully on my next visit. When I went to collect my clothes subsequent to that, I saw them pegged out on a separate clothes line, fluttering mildly in the wind. Dhobi aunty had understood my problem, and was willing to cooperate despite her pair of uncooperative knees.

My experiment was turning out well. I would often detour past her cramped quarter for collecting my fresh laundry in the evenings. Once I reached a little earlier than usual. She was still busy folding the clothes. November chill tiptoed outside, sending an unsettling draught streaming in through a crack in her door. It did not bother her much. As I returned to the comfort of my warm hostel room, I thought of it as a luxury perhaps for the first time.

The winters progressed. I handed her the custody of my woollens and was never disappointed except on one occasion when I noticed a costly pashmina shawl was missing. I confronted her about it. But the shawl was merely a false trigger. With the term end approaching and unfinished academic assignments weighing on my sanity, she ended up being a prey to the misplaced stress. Thereafter, I stopped availing her services. A few days later I noticed something rolled up at the back of my closet- the missing shawl. Running my fingers through its folds of fine texture, I felt the pinching prize, emblematic of a jagging guilt.

When I walked over to her quarter for an apology, all she said was that pashmina shawls must be hand washed delicately in a mild detergent. And as I left, she waved out as usual, her wet hand releasing sparkling bits of white foam in the air.

Sometimes the most beautiful lessons in life will come from the most unconventional teachers. All it takes is a little scrubbing of the mind’s linen and a biggish heart.

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