This morning I turned on the iron in the utilities room and ironed three handkerchiefs and four scarves.
Laying out the almost see-through woven silk scarf I could see the pattern on the cover of the ironing board. I chose the cover myself about a year ago when the last cover had worn out.
On a white background there are prints of things related to ironing and clothes — hangers, a kid’s pair of pants, a bottle of spray starch, an iron, and clothes pegs. The illustrations are charming. My kind of art.
I did this today as I am practising mindfulness (being in the moment) in things I do. And, doing things I haven’t done in a long time. Things I have become alienated from.
As I am paying attention to what I am doing, I notice the detail in the ironing board cover. I mean I really looked at it and admired it through the gauze like silk scarf I was ironing. How pretty it was.
Spraying the starch on the scarf, I listened to the hissing of the spray and then the hiss of the iron — slightly differently modulation of the hiss of the iron — as the steam left the bottom of the iron. There was a certain harmony to it all.
I have loved the idea and the action of ironing ever since I was a child. I didn’t do much of it as there was always someone else who took care of it. Growing up in India, privileged, we relied on the community of people called ‘dhobis’ who wash and iron clothes. In our home, before the days of washing machines, clothes were hand washed and ironed.
When I was in college in Kolkata, living in the boarding house, I washed and ironed some of my clothes. Sheets, pillowcases and other non-delicate wearables, were handled by a washer man who took our clothes several times a week. They came back beautifully laundered, folded, and ready for use and wear.
When I moved to the US in the early 1970s, I was introduced to the washing machine. I discovered that my cotton clothes couldn’t handle the rough and tumble of the washing machine. So, I started handwashing and ironing my clothes. My housemates wore clothes that didn’t need ironing. And what needed ironing, they didn’t iron. Increasingly I shifted to the non-iron clothes. But I always had cotton clothes which I hand washed and ironed.
I kind of got attached to the ironing table. I liked the way it stood, with its cross legs, always ready for the garment to be laid on it — crumpled and wrinkled. And, once the iron started to work on it, how the garment changed form, slowly, till it unwrinkled. I never liked the idea of folding and putting away the ironing table. I wanted it open and ready. It was like a piece of art.
From the early 70s to now, I have had a standing ironing table in every of the 12 homes I lived in.
When we were building the house, I am living in now, I asked the architects for a utilities room. What would you put in it, they asked? An ironing table and a kitchen sink for handwashing of delicates I said. And a washing machine. My husband started talking about a space for a folding ironing table. No, I said firmly. It must stand, all the time. Ever ready.
The ironing in our home is done by Amar, the man who comes and picks up the clothes every other day. The clothes are washed at home in the washing machine, dried in our back porch and handed over to him. And there are things handwashed in the utilities room sink. I know the washing machine has a delicate cycle. But I don’t trust it. It exasperates my husband. Prakash, our full time help, insists he will do the handwashing. I don’t fight him.
In the recent past, when I was ironing, it’s because something I wanted to wear had creases in it. I’d be upset as to why it hasn’t been ironed properly and the energy I’d put into ironing wasn’t a good one. Small wonder I never noticed the very charming ironing board cover I had chosen so lovingly some time ago.
In the last few months, I have been thinking about doing what I stopped doing, simply because there was someone else to do it, and I was busy doing something more meaningful. I increasingly began to feel that I had alienated myself from the essentials in my life.
Among these are ironing. So, I have re-introduced it into my life in a more deliberate way. And, when I am ironing, I only look at what I am ironing and focus on it. It’s a kind of meditation.
An ironing meditation.