Under the Indian Sun and Rain: I Feel Nostalgic About the Simple Joys of Drying Clothes On the Terrace
- There were a lot more advantages of the clothesline other than just drying clothes. Children played in the shade of clothes, neighbors connected and it was an excuse to get out of the house and breath in some fresh air.
It seems such a long time ago — racing to the terrace to grab all the clothes hanging on the clothesline and bring them inside the house after hearing that first thunder or pitter-patter of rain.
Back at home in India, either you or the maid-servant hand-washed the clothes mid-morning and hung them nicely on the clothesline, secured with clothespins. For some reason, there would never be enough clothespins or barely enough. You had to become resourceful by putting the edge of one sari on top of another sari or bedsheet or salwar and secure them together with one clothespin. You also had to make sure not to place colored clothes next to the white ones to prevent them from staining.
It’s still a mystery to me why the life expectancy of the clothespins was much shorter when the maid used them. Also, over the lifespan of the clothespins, you could see their color fading, especially the plastic ones. And if you were lucky enough if they lasted that long, they became brittle and broke right when you needed that one clothespin for securing the last two pieces of clothing. And despite the agony these low-quality plastic clothespins caused, you bought the same ones again because you couldn’t afford wooden clothespins. Plus, the wooden ones weren’t very helpful in rainy seasons because they left stains on the clothes at the points where they were secured. I had my biggest revelation in this process — we might have sent a human to the moon but we haven’t invented the perfect clothespins yet.
Oh, and then the string itself. The nylon strings had to be replaced in a few months because they couldn’t withstand the Indian sun for too long and came undone. Then there were the coconut coir strings. They were too rough. The cotton string commonly called nada, also used as drawstrings for salwars and pajamas was there too. But that too became hard with time due to the constant exposure to the sun and then break. The jute string couldn’t withstand the weight of the clothes. The metal strings would rust in some time and stain the clothes in a straight line where the clothes touched the string. But eventually, some good-quality metal strings became available.
Summers were the best months for drying clothes. It didn’t take much time for the scorching sun rays to instantly dry up the moisture dwelling in the mesh of the threads. In a few hours, the clothes went from dripping wet to dry as chips.
The rainy season, on the other hand, was a different story. The sun plays hide-n-seek with you. As soon as you saw the sun coming out you went as quickly as possible with the bucket of washed clothes and put them on the clothesline to dry. You reminded yourself quietly to bring them back in before it starts to rain. And at the first sign of rain, you would leave everything you were doing to make that same trip to bring the clothes back in. This time tucking and holding all the clothes in your arms trying your best to not let any of them fall.
It felt like an accomplishment when you were able to save the clothes from getting drenched. But there was another challenge. Where to put those clothes because they weren’t completely dry yet? The back of the dining chairs or sofa hand rests made the best places to hang them. And you could feel the cold clothes the on your back or your arms as you sat in them. The saris and bed sheets were the most challenging because they needed so much space. So you would fold them once or twice and they went right on the footboard of the bed. You turned the fan on to dry them faster.
But you weren’t always lucky though to get the clothes in right away. Your maid hung the clothes out to dry but because you were at school or at work or shopping somewhere and you couldn’t make it home before the rain started. At that point, there was nothing else to do but to be zen about it and let go and deal with the wet clothes after getting home.
Once you reached home you would take an empty bucket with you. You would wring out the water from the clothes and put them in the bucket. Then you would bring the bucket inside the house and place the clothes to dry in the usual places.
At times when you just felt lazy or forgot to bring the clothes in, there would be a heavy price to be paid. Now your clothes weren’t only wet but they smelled musty. And there was no other option than to wash them again!
It used to happen so frequently that you had school the next day but the clothes hadn’t dried yet, especially the underwear. Your mom or dad would try to dry them by ironing them. To ensure that the elastic lasted longer, they would avoid ironing the seams. So when you wore that underwear you could feel parts of it warm and the seams cold! The seams would dry in due course with your body heat. But the first few hours in school that under pants kept you one hundred percent in the present moment.
There were a lot more advantages of the clothesline other than just drying clothes. Children played in the shade of clothes, especially saris and bedsheets. Neighbors connected with each other while hanging or taking off the clothes from the line. It was an excuse to get out of the house and breath in some fresh air.
With the advent of washers and dryers and apartment buildings on the rise, plus the strict requirements of some Home Owners’ Associations, outdoor clotheslines are becoming more and more old-fashioned.
I have decided to put a clothesline in my backyard not only to reminisce about the good old days but also to harness solar energy.
Dr. Mrinalini Garv is America’s exclusive career coach for South Asian professional women. A bestselling author, and multiple-time career changer, she has worked as a physician, leadership coach and business professor in world-renowned organizations. Having had to maneuver her career success without a mentor that looks like her or had experiences similar to hers, Dr. Garv has become that mentor to South Asian professionals to help them master their careers so they can achieve the ultimate success they didn’t even know was possible for them.