Crestfallen, I looked on helplessly at the mountain of clothes, that lay shoved in the washing machine and the fellow seemed to be on strike, stubbornly still, not budging an inch. I had lots of chores waiting in queue, the weather too didn’t help much, cloudy, with a pall of gloomy pollutants hanging in the air; I wondered what to do. The mechanic was called and he diagnosed a defect in the washing machine that would take almost a week to repair. This was bad news given the fact that I change my bed linen every second day, the men in the house have a clumsy knack of dropping food on their clothing and after a daily game of cricket my son’s clothes need to be boiled, sterilised and washed which only the washing machine could do.
That first day I tried handwashing the pile of laundry, scrubbing, rinsing, squeezing each piece of clothing to make sure that every drop of water is purged. It was back breaking, time consuming and I realised how important this machine was in my life. I vehemently agree with Ha-Joon Chang, an economist at Cambridge University, that “The washing machine changed the world more than the internet”, at least for women.
As I experienced this severe feeling of loss, after my foray into the whole cycle of washing that washed away my energy, I began looking for the inventor of this magical gadget. As I read more about the washing machine I chanced upon a Ted Talk by Hans Rosling, a Swedish statistician who made it to the Times’ 100 most influential people list in 2012. He called the washing machine “the greatest invention of the industrial revolution”.
He was just 4 years old when he saw his mother load the washing machine first time in her life. The parents had been saving money for years to be able to buy it. His grandmother was invited to watch the miraculous feat. Throughout her life she had been heating water with firewood and handwashed laundry for seven children. For her it was a phenomenal moment, she eagerly wanted to be the one to press the power button and sat in front of it till the washing cycle ran its course!
That first day, his mother excitedly remarked, “Han, we have loaded the laundry, the machine will do the work and now we can go to the library.” So, in the final lines of the talk, Han states that you load the machine and what do you get out of it; you get books, you get time to read, read to your little ones. This is how his mother got more time to read, learn English as a foreign language and inculcated the love for reading in her son too.
These days I tend to look at every piece of invention around me with more respect and gratitude. Even small things like safety pins, paper clips, staplers and scissors. The latest priced invention that I can’t do without these days is the air purifier because without it I am catapulted into a never-ending tizzy of sneezing, with ever watering eyes. Lately, when I moved home, I was very thankful that somebody came up with the idea of the ‘Bubble Wrap’, not only did it keep my delicate cut-glass pieces safe it helps to de-stress as I addictively burst the bubbles. It’s therapeutic, try it! The fun thing is that Alfred Fielding and Marc Shuvon were trying to develop a 3D plastic wall paper when they accidentally invented something else — the Bubble Wrap.
Well, right now I would want someone to invent a machine to get rid of the stubble that farmers in North India need to burn at this time of the year, acutely affecting the Air Quality Index. On the other hand, the husband wants a robotic back scratcher. Presently it seems, an itch, watering eyes and filthy lungs are going to be the parents of upcoming inventions.
Have you ever thought of what you fancy as your favourite invention or is there still something that you would love to be invented?
Navanita Varadpande is a writer based in Gurgaon, India @VpNavanita