It takes a lot of dishes to keep harmony

By Suresh Pattali

Published: Thu 15 Apr 2021, 6:58 PM

If anyone wondered why I gave it a miss for two weeks, let me tell you, I was washing dishes.

I do my own dishes, always, and expect others to do the same. It isn’t a habit born out of my love for wifey. It isn’t my passion to scrub and rub after every square meal. It isn’t something that I inherited from my dad. He never washed dishes — an allowance patriarchy bestowed on a majority of Indian husbands who wear a sense of entitlement on their sleeve.

It’s something I acquired after watching my mum scrub a pile of dishes every day — rain or shine — and refined during my bachelor days in Mumbai. Like any woman who toiled in a pastoral environment in India in the’70s or ’80s, my mum ended up washing a mountain of dirty dishes between the daily activities called breakfast, lunch and dinner. People would leave their dishes wherever they ate in the property and my mum and aunt would collect every china and every morsel.

Looking back on it now, it feels like we lived through the dark ages with no electricity to power our homes. The nearest electric post was a few kilometres away. My sister earned her MSc in Maths burning the midnight oil of a kerosene lamp.

Dish washing powder or liquid was never heard of, let alone the electrical dish washer. My mum used ash, scooped up from a cooled-down kitchen hearth, and a brown coconut rind to scrub soiled vessels. The cleansing ceremony in the backyard — happening in the dark, watched by a few pairs of feline eyes cooling their heels to feast on food waste — lasted nearly an hour. Reading Silas Marner under a hurricane flame dancing in the whistling wind, I watched as mum laid out utensils scrubbed to sparkle in the scullery to drain.

The sweat she broke doing dishes rolled down her face like beads of contentment. Her sigh looking at a sterile kitchen hugged me like winds of positivity. That’s where I am coming from. A kitchen well-cleaned before bedtime offers you a well-deserved good night. After a quick shower, she would scan through the day’s newspaper before falling asleep over a translated classic.

“I do my dishes, so I expect everyone to follow,” I told Vava as she drove me up to our new nest in Dubai.

“Dad, no need to trumpet it. We all do the same. There are days when we women don’t feel like doing dishes immediately after a good meal. We want the taste of our labour to linger on for a while.”

“What reason are you talking about? It takes only a few minutes. I don’t want the kitchen sink to look like a monsoon-battered backstreet in Mumbai.”

“We postpone certain tasks. That’s fine as we ourselves do the honours next morning.”

“But I don’t want to go to bed seeing a pile in the sink. I want the sink to look as serene as an Alpine valley.”

“Dad, you came, saw and conquered the meal. That’s just the last link in the long chain of a process called cooking. We broke a sweat, shopping and cooking, to put that damn food on the table. So if you find some dirty dishes in the sink, no harm doing it yourself if you love your family. It takes a lot of dishes to keep harmony. If your wife doesn’t clear the dining table every three hours, it would look like a dump at the end of the day.”

“I stand by what I learned from my mum: Never keep anything for tomorrow.”

“That’s because you are obsessed with the memories of your mother. You need to clear up the mess of nostalgia from your life. Look at Uncle Sonny in Chennai. Whenever we crashed after a crazy night at his place, he never slept before clearing an Everest in the sink. It’s a shining token of love; a commitment to your wedding vow ‘to share all that’s to come’ — dish-washing included. Every time he scrubbed the dishes, he was excising the filthy banalities of life that accumulate on a relationship.”

“Dad, give it a try at your new place and see how a small gesture can bring a sea change. It would breathe a much-needed freshness into your life. Besides, you will find yourself in the company of Bill Gates, who washes dishes with Melinda every night.”

In the next two weeks, I did dishes like a maniac while the rest hemmed curtains and unpacked cartons. It’s like a never-ending holy dip in the sink to wash away my sins of egomania. I have emerged from the sinkhole like a new avatar, ready to take on any grease. Bring them on.

“Vava, where’s Dad?” It was wife yelling from the backyard.

“In the sink, mum. What happened?”

“Tell him to clear the bloody mess here. It looks like a waterhole bombed in Belfast.”

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