In India, yes it was until a few years ago. Honestly, when I was a kid, I never bothered doing my own laundry as I was totally dependent on Ma for it. She indulged me probably considering that academics took a toll on me and I needed more time for games and books. Now when I’ve been living away from home for about nine years, I realize the monstrosity of laundry. Baba has been doing his mini laundry himself for years now. The same holds true for my father-in-law. What I mean by mini laundry is washing their inner wear daily while bathing. They would put the dirty clothes in the laundry bag otherwise, not bothering the lady of the house with trifles like kerchiefs and socks.
For everyone else I know, including my cousins and friends – they believed that mom would do the laundry, or the domestic help, and more recently the washing machine (operated by mom again). Sad but true, Ariel’s survey with AC Nielsen is a glaring fact that 76% of the men still feel that laundry is a woman’s job. From my knowledge and experiences spanning over three decades, I won’t blame only the men for this blasphemy. Our Indian moms and grandmas pamper their men to infinity. I’ve heard so many say “Babu’r toh porashuno achhe, bari’r chhele boshe kapor kachbe keno, amra toh achhi. (Why should Babu do any laundry when we’re there for him, he needs to study instead). The range of this ‘Babu’ spans anywhere for men aged 10-50 years.
They don’t do laundry on a regular basis as they’ve never been taught or asked to do it. Baba has nurtured the habit of washing his own clothes to the least as he’s lived in hostels for most of his academic life.
When I left home for the first time nine years ago, we already had a washing machine at home. I took the initiative of coaxing Baba for buying one to ease our lives. Since then, Ma has been happy. Visibly. We tried to make the weekend mornings better by doing our laundry together – Baba would excitedly operate the washing machine as if it were a grand gadget, Ma would sort out the clothes by their colours and texture, and I would take them up to the terrace for drying and back. It felt good taking off the load from Ma, trying to contribute a little to the household, and trying to grow up. When I began living alone, well, it was a different story. Every weekend demanded a lot of laundry to be done, carrying basket full of stuff from the apartment to the community laundry room, which often felt spooky to me. The monstrous machines would gulp all my clothes and spun for hours to dry them. Most days it so happened that I would put the machine on and go for a siesta. By the time I woke up, the clothes would be dry and smelled wonderfully of the detergent and softener. Folding them into a stack has still been a pain though.
Before I got married, I was sceptical of the lurking laundry responsibility of another human being. Fortunately, I married someone who’s been doing his laundry for more years than me. I think the Indian scenario has changed drastically over the last decade as more men have been abroad for work, learning cooking and laundry in the process, making them much more self sufficient than our earlier generations. The Metrosexual man now knows the difference between a detergent and a softener, to separate whites from colours and cottons from woollens. It helps if your partner spends the laundry time together, even if doing nothing but talking or listening to music. It’s the company that matters, with a little help in drying and folding the clothes afterwards.
Let’s try and change the statistics, shall we? It’s about time, anyway.