Dishes and the zen of washing them

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If you thought cleaning soiled plates and cutlery after a heavy meal was a boring and unrewarding chore, you have a lot to learn from Bill... and how to be like him.

A teetering pile of dirty dishes can set this author’s heart aflutter. | Wikipedia

I have been living by myself for over 12 years now, and whenever anyone comes to know this, their first response usually is, “So, you know cooking, right?” And with absolute lack of embarrassment I tell them Yes, I do, but it’s mainly the basics: tea-coffee to daal-rice. Tea-coffee I am happy to make everyday, but am happier to outsource anything more heavy-duty in the cooking department (apart from good old instant noodles) to my domestic help.

I do like some cooking-related activities, though. I enjoy shopping for supplies. Taking in the smell of raw fruits and vegetables (yes, am vegan) — both at the store and when storing them in the fridge — even gives me a high. I don’t mind cutting fruits and veggies (the former regularly, the latter occasionally), for I get a second high as each slice and dice releases its visceral aroma. Like most people, I relish eating too (my weighing scale can vouch for this). But actual cooking — despite all the Masterchefs, Top Chefs and sous chefs; all the Instagram food handles, photos and hashtags; and all that I hear about its calming properties — I just don’t enjoy. I think I am just not a cooking soul, I am just not for the cooking born.

What I do love however is the kitchen activity that comes a bit after cooking. No, not the eating(that usually happens outside the kitchen), but... dish-washing. Now, that is therapeutic.


The aroma of the bar / powder / liquid (take your pick) as it comes out of the container rivals that of the veggies. The water making your palms tingle as it runs over them, the soft foam enveloping your hands and the dish. The bubbles that sometimes form, unleashing your inner child. The feel, and smell, of a freshly cleaned plate. And I don’t stop at the utensils. After the saucers and sauce-pans, I proceed to clean the sink. I am clearly a cleaning junkie.

I also find dish-washing energising. In the morning, washing my coffee and breakfast dishes perks me up as much as the coffee and breakfast. In the afternoon, it helps me fight fast-arriving post-prandial stupor. At night, it ensures, just as all those health experts advise, that I don’t go to sleep right after eating. Calorie-burning and exercise for the hands. Someone’s going to read this and make it the next big work-out trend. I better call dibs on ‘Muscles from Vessels’.

As I work from home (which is how I am able to do so much washing), the activity also provides me a break and sometimes even fuels ideas for work. That’s where I got the inspiration for this piece: I like writing. I like dish-washing. And here the twain have met. 


Washing dishes is all about restoring, bringing something back to its original state.

But I think the real reason I dig dish-washing is a bit more profound. (I don’t share a similar enthusiasm for washing clothes, and mercifully, there are washing machines for that.) Washing dishes is all about restoring, bringing something back to its original state. I even see a bit of Hindu spirituality at work here. I look at the trifecta of Cooking-Eating-Washing as invoking the symbolic qualities of the trinity of Brahma-Shiva-Vishnu.

Cooking is all about creating — conceiving and crafting something that appeals to many of our senses, and in the case of several people, something that’s close to art. Eating involves destroying — finishing off what you’ve asked for or what’s been served to you. It isn’t surprising that a common synonym for eating is ‘devouring’. But cooking and eating both leave behind much mess (in the kitchen) and dirt (at the table and on dishes). Enter washing, with its promise of preservation. The vessels go back to their squeaky, shiny state, and the kitchen to its sanitised, spotlessly clean self. And all is right again in the mortal world.

Analogies and analyses apart, I find washing dishes joyful in itself. I feel I’ve been let loose in a Lilliputian water-park with just one instruction: ‘Go play.’ Ok, two: ‘Clean some dishes while you’re at it’.

And at times, the dishes join me in my vigour. A few days ago, one of my coffee mugs slipped from my hands as I was giving it a good scrub-and-rub. My heart missed a beat. (Yeah, try telling the heart just then that it’s only a coffee mug; the heart just senses that something’s going to shatter into several pieces.) But the mug fell at an angle on the bottom of the sink... and bounced back up. I caught it firmly on its rebound, doing Jonty Rhodes proud. I guess the mug’s survival instinct was as strong as its ceramic.


Seriously, if and when dish-washing brands come up with a ‘Share the Load’ campaign (an ongoing ad campaign by Ariel, exhorting men to share clothes-washing duties with women) of their own, they will have no problem pitching to people like me (I am sure there are many others like me out there, but more on that later). Why, I could even be their brand ambassador.

Actually, when it comes to me, I won’t share this load. My domestic helps first show amazement at my desire to retain this chore for myself, and then turn sour at the realisation that, damn, this money ain’t going to them.

So too, if my friends and I were out dining and we fell short of cash, I would be more than happy to take up the compensatory task of cleaning the dishes. And here, unlike in the kitchen and at the table, I don’t baulk at the non-veg/an stuff. I am okay with sliding that chicken bone or crab shell off the plate, with my hands if need be, for I guess, the pain of knowing someone murdered a fowl or a fish for food would be wiped off by the pleasure of washing and wiping that dish clean.


In my dish-washing bliss, it seems I have some very choice company. Bill Gates — yes, the one with micro soft hands — has gone on record saying he does the dishes at home from time to time. Guess that’s how he saved his billions?

Inspired by Bill (why, Be like Bill), and given that I do it so often and so much, I could even launch a dish-washing outsourcing start-up. Before I work out a business plan for it, though, I of course have some dishes to go wash.

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