“You have hydromania,” said my husband, entering the kitchen as quietly as a cat and startling me into dropping a steel lid. “And you have hydrophobia,” I retorted. Once these endearments had been exchanged, he wrenched the scouring pad from my hand and ordered me off the kitchen to take up the dishwashing from where I had left off.
When I finish the dishes, the kitchen looks as if several crows have had a satisfying bath there. Water is splashed all around, often dripping off the counter to the floor. In vain, I tell my husband not to come upon me while I’m still in the process of washing up. When done, I wipe the place so dry no one would believe it had resembled the sides of a miniature swimming pool a little while before. But no, he’d come just when I’m warming up to my task, hands sloshing around inside the sink with water gushing out full force from the tap and bouncing off the plates to spray in all directions.
“It’s criminal, the way you waste water,” he remonstrated, turning the tap off to a trickle, disapproval dripping from his voice like the water from the tap. “See, this is the right way to do it.” He proceeded to demonstrate his washing up skills, gently taking a plate I had lathered rather too well and holding it under the tap. I waited impatiently for what seemed like eternity as he rinsed it in slow motion and then left him to do the rest at his own pace.
My husband can’t cook but he loves washing up — when he has the time, that is. For, he needs plenty of time and leisure for that, his methods being very slow, measured and thorough.
We have a music system in the kitchen and to the accompaniment of music that ranges from European early music and Carnatic veena to hard rock and folk music, most of which is meant to keep me out of the kitchen, he washes up at the same leisurely tempo, contentment writ large on his face.
My modus operandi while washing up, on the other hand, is slam bam. For me, doing the dishes is the necessary but undesirable culmination of the task of cooking and the idea is to finish it as quickly as possible.
Water leaps out of the tap and under my frenzied guidance, dishes clang against one another, spoons rattle and glasses clink, keeping time to the fast-paced music I play, which could be The Beatles at their noisy best or Mohammed Rafi belting out zippy Shammi Kapoor numbers.
This kind of expeditious washing up has its drawbacks, described in great detail by my husband when he takes over. Wearing his glasses and examining every piece of crockery and cutlery with an eagle eye, he begins his nitpicking.
“Look at the stain on this plate and the grime on the spoons! And there’s dirt in every ridge of this glass. Why don’t you buy plain glasses and plates instead of these fancy, cutwork types? So difficult to keep them clean.”
My protest that they are gifts cuts no ice with him. “Tell your friends to give you sensible presents. And the glasses wouldn’t have got so dirty if you had your glasses on when you washed them. Where’s the toothbrush I’d kept here? And the metal scouring pad?”
The cleaning fetish gets hold of him and when the washing up is over, he progresses to the other items in the kitchen. Once he’s done, the kitchen looks as if it has got a facelift. If the mood continues, he makes a foray into the storeroom and in spite of my protests that some of the pots and pans there are old and damaged, he resurrects them into shining pieces of scrap metal, much to the bafflement of the junk dealer.
My friends wish their husbands would take a scrubbing leaf out of his book. A friend who is a beneficiary of his magic with dishwashing is especially admiring. The other day, she sent him food when I was out of station and when he returned the containers, she almost refused to take them back for they were gleaming beyond recognition.
“How wonderful it would be,” she sighed after I returned, “if all my shabby containers could get to look this good.”
“Simple,” I said. “Keep sending us food in them.” I smacked my lips in anticipation. She is an excellent cook.
A fortnightly column by the city-based writer, academic and author of the Butterfingers series. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org