I’ve mentioned before that one of the clinching factors for me coming to India was that I would get a maid and potentially never have to cook or wash dishes again, unless I really wanted to! I assumed that included ironing as well, but I didn’t dwell on it much.
I hated ironing! Every weekend, in the UK, I would get out the ironing board and a few choice garments, only the essentials for work and school, and iron. I would fall into a kind of zone; first the collar, then the sleeves then the body of the shirt. It would be mindless tedium that I dreaded on a Sunday afternoon and often it was one that I skipped in favor of something else, like marking books for school. I really did hate ironing!
Once in Kolkata, when I got my maid things were going well for a time; we fell into a routine, the house was clean, the beds were made, clothes were washed and the cooking was done, but it came to a point in our time in Kolkata, about 2 weeks in, when my husband had run out of ironed shirts.
I had no problem per se with the logistics of ironing. We were provided with an iron but it wasn’t a steam one and a sun-dried shirt is a very difficult to press without steam and an ironing board so I was struggling. At one point, in despair at his badly pressed shirts, my husband suggested I ask the maid to have a go. The maid, to put it bluntly, could not iron to save her life, and I was in constant fear that she would burn something or set the house on fire!
Finally, after some asking around, we found a more productive solution; we found an Iron Man. This superhero, with the power of super steam, I presumed, would be the answer to our prayers! He would come in the morning, at around 9am, take our clothes and return them ironed and folded to perfection the following day. The best part was how affordable it was. He charged just 4 rupees a garment. If you convert that into pounds sterling that would be 0.0431pence, less than half a penny! While we lived in Eastern High, our first abode in Kolkata, the relationship with our Iron Man was purely business. He’d take the clothes, return them, take the cash and take some more clothes. It suited me just fine.
Later when we moved to Hiland Park, a bigger complex, we found a new Iron Man.
Every morning, he turns up at about 9am, just like the last one did. He takes the clothes, counts them and bundles them up. He then asks, “Babu hai?” Babu is the generic name given to my son by his caregiver, meaning gentleman, or in my son’s case, ‘little gentleman’ and is now adopted as a sort of pet name amongst the workers I see everyday. He asks this because it has become a part of his morning routine to play football in the corridor with my son, as the caregiver and I watch on. We watch as the middle aged man balances the football on his head and drops it like a clumsy clown. We watch as he runs after my son shouting “Krishna Bhagvan Ki Jai!” Victory to Lord Krishna, the child god in Hindu Mythology, famed for embodying the innocence and mischievousness of youth and we smile as my son runs after the Iron Man, giggling and screeching trying to pry the football from his fingers.
I bumped into the Iron Man one evening as we were playing in the basketball court and he was taking home his evening collection of clothes. He told me my son reminded him of his grandson, who lives too far away to see every day. He also said my son was a Chota Gopal, another name for the child god, Krishna, with his curly hair and naughty smile. I was flattered as any mother would be if another human being could see the divine in the child she worships everyday. But it was different for our Iron Man, a simple man from a village far away; for him the divine is everywhere and in everyone. His perpetual smile and untroubled gait, as he carries his bundle of clothes teaches me that perhaps that is the way to see things. Aren’t we all made in His image, after all?
Isn’t there beauty in everything, if we just stop to look?