No More Soaking

Entry for The Surf Excel Matic #SoakNoMore Contest by Indiblogger and HUL

The bathroom was huge. It was bigger than her entire house. It was a very old British bungalow modified to suit the modern lifestyles. But inspite of all the architectural changes, it had been somehow not possible to move the work area away from the master bathroom. It would affect the 100 year old plumbing, the renovation architect had told them, so the work area remained adjacent to the bathroom. There was a wall that separated the work area and the lavish bathroom, but the access to the washing machine was through the master bathroom.

Shriram Saikumar owned the sprawling acres of tea that carpeted the valley below the bungalow. He was one of the richest men in the area. His wife Sunita Saikumar was a social butterfly. Always involved in parties and charity events across the district. Her gardens were her pride and she won the Best Personal Garden prize at the Flower Show every year.

Shanthi lived in the labourers’ quarters half a kilometer away from the bungalow. She was the handywoman in the Saikumar bungalow. Maid, housekeeper, cook. Everything.  . Mrs. Saikumar had wanted to employ a separate cook, but Shanthi had offered to do the cooking also. That was another five thousand rupees a month for her, and she didn’t want to let it go. It had not bothered Mrs. Saikumar that she was overworking her maid. As long as she paid for services, he was guilt free. And Shanthi did not ever complain.

She would finish her cooking and move on to vacuuming. There was not a spot of dust in the house, but she had to dust and vacuum everyday. And follow it up with mopping. It was a backbreaking job inspite of all the gadgets because of the sheer size of the house. Whenever Shanthi emptied out the laundry hamper and wondered how just two people could accumulate so many dirty clothes everyday. Mrs. Saikumar was passionate about her garden and she would stand with her gardener, wearing her huge hat and gloves and tell him what exactly she wanted from her plants. The amount of mud on her clothes would put a frisky schoolboy to shame. She used a fresh set of gym clothes every day, throwing the used clothes into the hamper, smelling of sweat and perfume. And her newfound hobby of pottery created the biggest mess. Her studio was filled with clay stained cloths that Shanthi had to pick up every afternoon after Mrs. Saikumar’s group of friends left. She was also a painter and Shanthi’s biggest challenge was getting off the watercolour stains from her aprons and making them spotless white again.

Mr. Saikumar’s clothes were another story altogether. He worked most of the time in his warm , dust free office, but on days he went on field visits into the tea estates, he would return with mud soaked socks and dirty brambles stuck all over his trousers.

But inspite of the load of laundry that she faced every day, Shanthi never complained even once.

She had a treat waiting for her every laundry session.  While Mrs. Saikumar sat downstairs reading or talking to her friends on the phone, Shanthi would tuck in her saree and climb upstairs to the master bathroom and open the connecting door into the work area. She would empty the laundry hamper on the floor, and separate the clothes. Then she would pick out the brambles from Mr.Saikumar’s trousers and put them in the garbage bin. Then the clothes would go into the washing machine, and she would set the cycle for them to soak for a good half an hour.

And while the clothes were soaking, she would tiptoe surreptiously into the master bathroom, and fill the large bathtub with Mrs. Saikumar’s bath salts and scented oils. And while the clothes soaked in the washing machine on the other side of the wall, Shanti- maid, cook, housekeeper would step into her mistress’ bathtub and soak herself in warm luxury.

Soaking there in the warm scented bubbles, every ache and pain from the day’s vacuuming and mopping would leave her body. She sometimes would drift away into sleep and dream that she was a queen. An hour later, she would step out, clear out all traces of her presence in the bathtub and take out the washed clothes to dry out in the sun.

***

But today as Shanthi walked upstairs to the laundry room, Mrs. Saikumar called out to her  ‘I’ve got some new detergent, Shanthi. You won’t have to spend so much time with the laundry now. Finish fast and come down’

Shanthi opened the laundry room cabinet and her face fell. There was a new box of Surf Excelmatic. Drat, she cursed under her breath. She didn’t have to soak the clothes anymore. This damn detergent would remove all those tough stains without soaking.  She glared at the box angrily and put two spoonfuls into the machine and dumped in the clothes. Those pottery stains, those paint stains, those bramble bush stains and all sundry stains looked up at her and laughed. The clothes did a little dance of relief. We don’t need any soaking now, the sang.  Shanthi thought they were mocking her. Sadists. We’ll be done before you know it and you can take us out to dry in a jiffy.

Shanthi stared at the large bathtub and heaved a sigh of disappointment. No more soaking, she mumbled to herself. No. More. Soaking.

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