After all the drama of missing a train, catching a last minute flight, and meeting up with the team in a city I’d never been in before, I reached Ranikhet without much further incident.
Ranikhet however, proved to be much, much hotter than expected. One foot outside on the first afternoon, and I realised that all the woollens, thermals and double-layered, full sleeved t-shirts I brought along were useless. I dug into my bag, and came up with precisely one t-shirt that wasnt designed for sub zero temperatures. And after using it on the first day, I found myself with the choice of reusing the comfortable tee, or wearing the woollens. That was when I knew I had to do something radical to save the day- I decided to wash my clothes.
In the days I lived with my parents, my only experience with washing clothes was the odd occassion when my mom asked me to run them through the washing machine, a task accomplished by bullying my 10 year old brother into doing. Later in hostel, I got on mostly by piling on the clothes through the week, and dropping in on some unsuspecting relative over the weekend with a backpack loaded with dirty clothes. Occassionally, I did have to wash them myself, a task I accomplished by generally employing a lot of detergent, water and swinging of clothes. The technique was never perfected though, and I usually ended up with more detergent and water on the clothes I was wearing, than the ones I was trying to wash. However, as I grew older, I grew more responsible, and so when I moved into a place of my own, I learned to operate the washing machine. This settled the problem, untill I landed up in Ranikhet with just one suitable t-shirt.
Despite what people’ll tell you about the spread of technology, washing machines are not to be found everywhere. I sneaked around the house of our host pretending I’d lost my way, but I could find no washing machine. I then cornered him, and dropped hints about the wonders such a machine could do, particularly if bought immediately, but the host shook his head sadly and informed me that they had a chronic water shortage and had to wash clothes by hand, using as little water as possible. Great!
At this point, M took pity on me (or maybe it was just the fear of smelly clothes), and agreed to teach me how to wash clothes. Here, you can see me preparing for it..
Despite the warmup though, towards the end of the first shirt itself, my arms began to ache. Washing shirts, I found require strong biceps and supple wrists. Though I didnt have either, I’d met a chick earlier at one of the meetings with the NGO’s founder, and given the possibility that I could run into her again, I needed clothes I could look relaxed in. Clothes in which I could lean against a wall and come up with some witty remark which would have everyone rolling with laughter. Slowly sweating to death in my thermals in front of her was not an option. So I stuck through the dull haze of pain, and eventually, washed enough clothes to last me a couple of days.
Just before I’d finished though, the dadi, whose handpump I was presently using, dropped by to tell me not to waste any water, reminding me about the severe water crisis and asked me to pour out even the soapy water for the plants in the garden nearby. The problem though was that the technique I’d evolved, with some help from an exasperated M did not involve the accumulation of water in the bucket. I could now wash clothes without getting too much water on myself, but apart from that, there wasnt much common to the way people normally wash clothes. I’d used much less water than I usually do, but by our hosts’ standards, I’d ended up taking the plants’ share of water. I felt a tinge of sadness as I thought of the plants, but reflected that such was life, decided there was nothing I could do, and gathered my clothes and headed towards the clothesline. As I turned the corner however, I found the dadi waiting, looking out to see if I’d watered the plants.
As soon as I’d saw her, my heart skipped a beat and I quickly took a U-turn and headed back. Although, I was feeling a little guilty about using too much water, I was left with no other option, if I wanted to avoid having to explain my washing technique to my hosts. I filled some water from the handpump again into the bucket and with a heavy heart set out to water the plants. The dadi was pleased, and gave me a cheerful thumbs-up, thinking I was recycling water.
Finally done, I gathered my clothes and left the place. As I rounded the corner again, I found myself staring at the chick I’d seen earlier. I saw a well dressed, pretty young girl in front of me. She, I’m pretty sure, saw a large, weirdly dressed guy, with a little detergent foam in the stubble, and a handful of wet underwear. Somehow it didnt quite work out with her after that.