Swishy washy

Manjula Padmanabhan | Updated on September 20, 2019 Published on September 20, 2019

The washing machine has been trying to die pretty much its whole life. I call it “Vesuvius” or “Vasu” for short, on account of its explosive personality. It shakes and shudders, foams at the mouth (the place where the detergent goes in) and howls when the spin-speed is too high. Even so, it’s lived 10 years past its natural lifetime. Why? Because of Bins.

Being a consummate gadget-doctor, he’ll listen sympathetically to all its whining complaints before saying: “Don’t worry. Your belt needs changing”. Or the timer switch. Or the inlet pipe. Sometimes he’ll pop open the lid, pull out all the horrifying entrails, call up the company to get spare parts and put everything back together. Despite losing some functions over the years, it’s been remarkably effective and we’re grateful for its service.

Vasu lives in the kitchen, which is a somewhat dinky space. Three people can stand in it comfortably, but the fourth one will cause a traffic jam. So when the machine has a nervous breakdown, potentially there are problems in the food-supply sector too. Everything’s connected, right? If the washing machine doesn’t work, dusters and napkins build up in the kitchen and civilisation grinds to a halt.

So anyway. The day comes when I put in a load, turn on the switch, wait to hear the water flowing and leave the kitchen. Ten minutes later, right after the spin cycle starts, there’s a heart-rending shriek and... silence. No further spin. “Probably the belt,” says Bins. But it isn’t. He tries all his usual solutions, but the symptom continues: Loud screech, followed by coma. The next line of defence is to call the company. The techie takes two days to come. He tinkers a bit, Vasu performs dutifully under his watchful eye, but the moment he’s gone, screech’n’coma.

The laundry is piling up. The company’s techie visits again and changes a part. This time Vasu goes into coma without even bothering to screech. “Oh sorry! That was an old part!” says the techie, and promises to return the “next day” with a new part. Needless to say, however, he vanishes into the mist and no longer answers his phone. Emergency manoeuvres are now attempted: We use the machine in the upstairs apartment. But it’s an old warhorse that’s not been used for a while. Within 10 days, it springs a leak. Eek! All out crisis!

“The time has come,” says Bins, “to order a new machine.” Normally, such momentous decisions require the Supreme Court and the UN. But we’re about to return to Elsewhere. We need clean clothes in order to board our flight. So. A new machine is ordered online and delivered overnight. Now, finally, Vasu’s technician returns! Only two weeks late! Much wailing and gnashing of teeth ensues. But we dismiss him with cold shrugs.

The replacement has twinkling lights and sings little tunes. Our clothes and kitchen dusters smell great once more. “What shall we call it?” Bins asks. “Merlin,” I say, “Merry for short.”

Manjula Padmanabhan, author and artist, writes of her life in the fictional town of Elsewhere, US, in this weekly column

Published on September 20, 2019
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