Doing the dishes: The most thankless job ever?

Dubai - But Seriously is a weekly column in which Sushmita Bose recounts her life experiences, through the lens, lightly

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Sushmita Bose

Published: Thu 26 Aug 2021, 1:40 PM

There are dish detergent advertisements that showcase a ‘unique’ (brand) value: no, not the cleaning properties — those are obviously a given — but the fact that the product is “gentle on your hands”. The smiling woman in the ad is shown looking at her hands admiringly after she’s run through the pile of dishes in the sink (or basin, whatever you choose to call it), because her hands are softer than ever. Seems like using a dish detergent is akin to slapping shea butter moisturiser on your wrists and hands.

The problem with these ads are twofold. One, a lie is being peddled when human dish-washers are told a cleaning agent is like a skin serum. (The best way to get around the problem is to use rubber gloves so your hands do not have to be in direct contact with said cleaning agent plus an excessive dose of soapy water — and end up looking as gnarled as the Wicked Witch of Winkie Country’s mitts.)

And two, the end of a serial dishwashing episode can never bring on the smiles.

It’s horrible, especially when it’s done on a daily basis.

Dishes are weird things. They keep piling up. I cannot, for the life of me, imagine I’d be single-handedly using so many dishes — when I don’t even cook at home (unless making an omelette or an occasional bowl of rice or pasta is considered cooking). It was worse during the lockdown, when I was actually cooking, and, suddenly, with house helps being sent on leave, it was up to me to bring the Scotch Brites up to speed.

It was during the lockdown that I toyed with the idea of being more mindful, since “mindfulness” was/is so woke those/these days. One of the many pieces I read up spoke of how “washing dishes” is an act of mindfulness: you have to be conscious and careful, because if you are not, you are going to end up having a great deal of broken crockery… imagine elegant Villeroy & Boche plates and imperial Steelite bowls and lovely RAK Ceramics mugs getting bashed up and knocked out of your repertoire.

So, I tried to be as sentient as possible, and washed dishes with “purpose”.

Alas, the process sparked no joy. I kept staving off washing till the sink got full, and then I had this out-of-body-like experience where I saw myself standing in front of a mound of pots and pats and what have you, scrubbing away, wiping sweat from my forehead, taking a flying catch each time one item dislodged itself from the pull of gravity and a whole bunch of such things.

The other day, a male colleague mentioned that he is okay doing any kind of household chore — cooking, hoovering, swabbing, washing clothes — but not doing dishes. It wasn’t a sexist thing he immediately added. “I mean, imagine me on my haunches, mopping a particularly grisly square foot of floor area — I’m happy to go down and dirty, but washing dishes is where I draw the line, it’s just too horrible.”

His indulgent wife normally does the honours, but she’s injured her arm, and presently he has no other choice but to do the dishes.

“Why don’t you buy a dishwasher?” a new-gen type, the kind who believe technology can solve every single problem, asked.

I had to butt in at this point to set the record straight: that the object called the dishwasher — a misnomer really — had no right to be invented. Other than waste (precious) water and (precious) time, and testing your assembly line skills, it does very little.

I have often watched in American movies, where you have diner-type settings, a hard-up hero (or the second fiddle or the third fiddle) is made to wash stacks and stacks of greasy plates in a grimy kitchen in the event of his inability to pay the food bill. I used to wonder if that happens in real life, circa 2021. On reading up on the matter, I discovered it used to (reportedly, allegedly, apparently — take your pick) be a rare phenomenon (in the US) back in the 1930s and 1940s, in hick towns, but today it would amount to violation of all kinds of rules.

It’s perhaps not surprising why this celluloid legend came to be perpetuated.

There’s nothing as fitting as doing the dishes to be taught a life lesson: this is the kind of atonement you need to do if you commit the cardinal sin of not paying your dues.

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