01/20/08 At the Washing Stone
I have been asked twice in the past few days how I do my laundry. Like the butt-washer issue, we are many trying to learn the ropes of the daily routines. A lot of folks bring the laundry to the “laundry centre” which you can find on any corner within a few blocks, for a nominal cost. At the laundry center you’re clothing is likely to be soaked, scalded, soaped, beat against stone, and I mean BEAT, and sometimes lost (aka- ripped off). Not your trusted dry cleaner. I heard a great story last week from a friend who picked up their laundry the appointed two days later and was returned a stack of neatly folded, wet clothes.
Me, I do my own washing. It is a part of the cycle of life for me here, also a way of keeping it real in a country where the dollar makes me rich. Ten rupees less to the dollar than two years ago, but still. And frankly, there aren’t a lot of things more meaningful than taking care of my own cleanliness. I am gifted with a washing stone on my rooftop, in the glorious sun, with a drain off the rooftop. Otherwise, the process of scrubbing and rinsing happens in a tiny bathroom, sweating and squatting down for an hour or so, naked but for the suds. I’ve got a good system now. Since the tap, which used to be attached beside my washing stone (a waist-high, flat piece of some rock or other) has been conspicuously removed from the wall, I drag the buckets in and out of my bathroom like a milkmaid. I keep my house chappals (the inside shoes that never go out in the world) at the threshold so I don’t track roof dirt all into my little room.
I fill the first large plastic bucket with laundry powder and hot water (which makes such a difference after attempting to do laundry in Goa with only cold). Soak the clothes for 30 minutes; more will age them, not as if the whole process does not. This is where I’ve figured it out. Where I used to rinse the clothing in the tiny stream of water from the tap, kneading and whacking it like I’ve seen the women doing here, sweating and lamenting the constant stream of suds that won’t turn to clear water- now I just wring them out and soak them in a large bucket of clean water. A few minutes, take them out, wring them out again and hang them to dry on my rooftop line. Should there be some soiling or staining, I take the plastic scrub brush, lay the piece over the stone and gently brush. The way I see locals scrubbing, I’m surprised the whole town isn’t threadbare. The brush is unforgiving, like a hard bristled tooth brush against your gums. My Banana Republic Modal, my Fab India silk! Anyone will tell you not to bring clothes you actually like to India. Well, sure I’ll just wear clothes I don’t like for 4 months. I certainly don’t plan on bringing any home, but with my new-found washing excellence, they may be ok.