A washroom soap opera

By Suresh Pattali

Published: Thu 4 Mar 2021, 5:30 PM

The light in the foyer was on, but the living room was in its glorious black when I returned well past midnight. It isn’t a wild guess then that my partner had retired for the day. As it’s a societal and familial responsibility to wash first even before you exchange pleasantries in the time of a pandemic, I stepped into the bathroom only to find something obnoxious. It wasn’t there in the morning. I guessed it was something borne out of Wifey’s newfangled sense of aesthetics. Now that daughter is away, she is the default princess. And she’s lovin’ it.

This time, she crossed the limits. I strongly believe no one — not even John Knoll — can challenge my sense of hues, however, colourless I may be. As a child, I had led an army of rainbow chasers and sprinted dementedly for furlongs to get the best glimpse of the heavenly phenomena. As a teen, I had seen rainbows blossom on many a girly cheek. When I grew sensible, my favourite shades were mostly colourless. I assigned (read dictated) shades to most things and persons. Shirts, ladies three-quarters and kitchen appliances must be in black. Saris all in golden shades. Couches in maroon. Windows white if the timber isn’t rosewood and so on.

The more cultural hotspots I visited across the world, the classier my tastes turned. It’s still maturing. When I painted four different shades in each of my bedroom back home, the painter badmouthed me in public, “This NRI is mad. I’ve been a painter for two decades.” And then he proposed the pattern to half-a-dozen houseowners in the village. So, what Wifey did today to such a “colouristically enlightened” husband is a cultural crime.

I took yet another glance at the dreadful bar in the tub soap tray that looked like a little burial-ready coffin, so colourful that it could only bathe the remains of a circus joker. The soap that almost blighted me in the dead of the night lay there like an evening winter sun fallen into a snowy valley. As I wasn’t able to name the shade, I brought in my laptop to the washroom with all pink shades that Google coughed up. Yes, it’s something between fuchsia and fluorescent hot pink.

For the first time, my heart bled pink for Wifey. It isn’t her fault. It’s the ultimate rebellion against decades of sartorial servitude. Everyone in the family wore what I dictated, from fashion to hues. After golden brown invaded our lives like locusts, dissent erupted from many corners.

“I don’t like the checked Venkatgiri sari.”

“You better like it.”

“I don’t like the Jeep long sleeve.”

“Wear it until your wife takes charge.”

Then I changed, even to the extent my family clothed me in the fashion they picked. But no one dared to mess with the bathing soap, though Vava had moved on to celebrity products like Victoria’s Secret and settled for organic stuff.

I have lived in 31 rented homes, and we were unanimous on our priority: The washroom is the sanctum sanctorum. Once we liked it, the cheque was written. And every time the scent defining all our bathrooms was lavender, though I had experimented some blackish woody for a limited time. The bathing soap offers a crude throwback to my difficult growing-up days.

Research papers tell us the first soap in the world was produced in Babylon in 2800 BC, while Jamshedji Tata started India’s first local soap unit in Kochi, Kerala, in 1918. Though the product called ‘OK’ was touted as the common man’s soap, the famine in the 1970s condemned us to the cheaper ‘501’ washing soap, a Tata Oil Mills (Tomco) product. Tomco chief may have named the product so because he wanted to ‘outnumber’ the ‘500’ soap brand already in vogue in France. For India’s poor, it turned out to be a multi-purpose bar, used for both washing and bathing. Its bland and uninspiring smell pricked my ego so poignantly that the bathing soap became a priority for the rest of my life.

At the village grocer’s, when children from poor and rich families shouted out their shopping items, the first group embarrassingly whispered “one 501 bar please” while the elite class yelled “two Moti or Jai”. Despite being dressed in a shiny, violate wrapper, Jai failed to entice me with its jasmine fragrance, while Moti won me over with its round shape and soft feel. The journey from Moti’s sandal to the lavender of my present-day choice is spiritual.

It’s that sacred sentiment Wifey’s fuchsia bath soap has hacked at. To avoid yet another midnight Gulf War, I ploughed into a bed covered with a hot-pink sheet. I avoided the topic, but silently replaced the soap in contention with a black one for a change.

The following Friday was cloudy. “It’s raining somewhere,” she said, as we did the weekly chores.

“What’s for lunch,” I queried.

“No lunch,” she replied, as soft as the lavender lather.

“Any particular reason?”

“I couldn’t find black rice in any of the neighbourhood shops.”


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