The latest addition to the ever growing dowry of a slum brides is believe it or not a washing machine. Even the humblest of families are ensuring that every girl reaches her new home armed with a washing machine. Often, as was the case in a recent wedding I attended, the machine is too big for the jhuggi in which it will have to find place. More often than not such homes have no bathroom, let alone a water point to feed the machine. Yet it faithfully accompanies every bride. It lies for some time in its packaging at the entrance of the home, for all to see and I guess the bride's family gets the required brownie points. Then after herculean efforts and some astute maneuvers its is dragged within the home and placed in a corner often hogging space that could be put to far better use. It may just lie thus for a long time and things are piled on it. Then perhaps one day it will be taken out of its dusty packaging and with more maneuvering inaugurated by dragging some hosepipe after having been plugged to an illegal power connection.
The washing machine is a symbol of urban success . It has replaced the now jaded TV and motorbike. No one bothers to think of all that is needed to get the machine going: water, electricity and above all space.
We have never owned a washing machine. For over twenty years Lakshiamma and her husband have come faithfully every day to wash our clothes. The thousand rupees or so they get every month feeds their family. It is true that sometimes the clothes are not quite as clean as one would like, or sometimes in heir hurry they soak a coloured cloth with the others and thus a white shirt gets some pink stains but what the heck. It is lovely to hear their voices as they babble to each other in Tamil. They are one of the thousands who leave their home to make a life for themselves and brighten ours.
In a world where water and electricity are getting scarcer by the day, they are true green warriors. For nothing in the world would I buy a washing machine! And yet I find it quasi impossible to explain this to my slum friends. I guess it will take a long time to teach them to walk to the next block rather than use their new bike. Let us not forget they have just acquired urban dreams.