Jayaram Vengayil’s short story is a gripping take on the close brushes of an individual with truth, who incidentally happens to be a laundry operator.
“I couldn’t have chosen a better place to start a laundry than Delhi”, I said to myself eyeing with satisfaction the grimy collars and cuffs of shirts that were part of this morning’s load. It has been almost a year since I took the plunge – how time flies. As I sorted the clothes into whites and coloureds, I wondered what people back home would think if they were to know that I ran a laundry and wasn’t working in an IT company as they thought I was. But then, most of them wouldn’t ever get here, Rajahmundry is too far away for anyone from there to bother coming all the way to see me. Nanna was too old to travel and Amma couldn’t even cross the street alone. Akka was married to the village officer who didn’t know of a world beyond Amaravathi, the new state capital.
In the beginning, it had been a little tough to rummage through soiled, often smelly clothes and to hear people calling me dhobi. But then, for someone who belonged to the washer-man community, this was a natural choice. Though nanna had worked with the government and no one from the family had actually been in the trade for at least some time, I discovered that there was a talent ingrained in me, possibly as a result of genetic build-up over endless generations. ‘The Laundry Basket’ had proved to be very popular with the people in the upscale colony where I had taken a small but convenient outlet on rent. Very soon I had over two hundred regular customers and had invested in a pick-up van and an assistant who went about collecting and delivering clothes. But I always did the washing myself, it was too critical to leave to anyone else.