Unlike in France where one does everything, hired help is the norm in India. In India, almost everyone has hired help. Atleast one for most, to many, for the affluent. M-i-l does most of the cooking, there is a woman to do the washing and another who does the floors and dishes. So what was it that I could do? The answer was :- 'Ironing'! I could iron mine and A's clothes. Yes.
M-i-l thought it would be easier if I just gave it to the 'press-walla'. I ignored her advice and struggled bravely with my ironing, in between the power cuts. Without an ironing board, I had to squat by the bed side to iron and the ceiling fan has to be switched off to keep the clothes from flapping. So by the time I finished, I was drenched, hot and bothered and my clothes half creased, no better than before ironing. In the meanwhile, our press walla worked wonders on my in-laws' clothes. Every neighbourhood has one. His shop is just a shack with a back wall formed by stacking bricks in between pillars of the park railings. Bamboo sticks covered with tarpaulin forms the roof, an oven to heat his iron which has a small tray on which glowing embers are put.
No fancy laundry starch, no latest iron with multi faceted options. His ironing board is a rickety wooden table- no doubt a cast off. And yet with these bare infrastructure…he presses and folds our clothes with the precision that would have you swear it was from the best laundry in town. What sharp creases, perfect folds, wrinkle free collars.
After pooh-poohing the need of the press walla, I couldn’t stop ironing all of a sudden and so I began sneaking off one or two of our clothes along with the in-laws’ bundles and yesterday, I boldly marched off with a whole bunch of my own. No more sweating, no more creased clothes, no more getting hot and bothered, wielding a heavy iron and what’s more his rates are really cheap - Re 1/- per clothing and Rs 3/- for a sari. Much less than my electricity bill…if the power happens to be there that is!
Now, I am a frequent visitor. I dont even have to mention my address. He knows it although he never greets me. He merely gives the briefest of nods or if he is in an unusually good mood, he grunts. His tiny bird like wife accompanies him as do his 2 kids – a tiny, solemn little girl. I have tried to speak to her and smile at her, in vain. Perhaps she gets it from her taciturn father. She usually brings the ironed clothes folded across her tiny arms and yells out ‘Press’and waits till someone comes and takes the clothes…she being too tiny to open the main gates let alone ring the bell. She is usually followed by her toddler brother who in contrast is very friendly as he toddles unsteadily up and down the road. He smiles at everyone and stretches out his tiny arms if he sees someone approaching with clothes in their arms!
The press-walla is very important and I suspect he knows it. He is there everyday ironing clothes with that heavy iron from 9.30am till sundown and a normal fixture of the neighbourhood normally that one gets used to. People take little notice of his presence but if he were to be absent even for a day, practically the whole of the neighbourhood would sit up and take collective notice!