I am 52 years old. I dropped out of school in Class three as I was one of 12 children at home and I had to look after my siblings and help out my mother at home. I started ironing only after I got married. I was 22 years old then and we lived near Pollachi. My husband and I moved here when I had twins and I needed my mother’s help to look after them. I have three daughters and one son.
My husband taught me to iron. I remember the time when we would iron one shirt and get paid 30 paise. Now we charge around Rs. 5 per piece and Rs. 10 per sari. It is difficult to iron cotton clothes. It requires more effort. But synthetics and silks are also tricky.
There have been times when I have singed a sari or a churidhar. But I always tell the owner what happened. Sometimes they are okay about it and just ask me to be careful in future. But there are those who get abusive. Recently a man, his wife and two sons called me names and spoke so disrespectfully to me. The lady caught hold of my blouse and shook me. That was so humiliating. The two sons too were rude. This, because the man felt I had not ironed out the wrinkles in his shirt properly.
Poverty, hunger, illness… I don’t think much of all that. I am born into it. But I am not able to shake off the shock of the disgusting way these people manhandled me and my husband and bad mouthed us. But this kind of thing is rare and my husband and I prefer to come here, iron the clothes and go back home without unpleasantness. My husband has had hernia surgery and also suffers from asthma. So when there is extra work or something urgent, I come at 5 a.m., finish ironing the clothes, then go back home to cook and clean. Sometimes I find the work tiring. Especially now, as I grow older, I notice that my knees ache from so many hours of standing and my arms and the back of my neck hurt too with all that bending. Between my husband and I, we earn about Rs. 300 a day. But that is not every day. We have to pay our room rent here and bear the cost of coal for the ironbox. Besides this, is our usual expenditure for food, medicines. When our children visit, we would like to gift them something too. Then, there is the loan. When the girls got married, we incurred a lot of expenditure for the gold ornaments we gave them. But I am proud that my husband and I work hard and honestly for a living.
Manickam works in an apartment block along with her husband. She has been washing and ironing clothes for more than 33 years