Monday, July 21, 2008

Apna Kaam Swayam..?

I walked into a sparkling clean house today. It was the cleaning service Monday. As on all the other Mondays, when I stepped in I felt a pang of guilt. Guilt? Yes, you heard me right. Guilty pleasure.

For this to make sense I need to rewind back and play this from the beginning.

My mother suffers from OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). She cannot tolerate untidiness or mess of any kind. Our house is dusted twice a day, all things are neatly in place and it is sparkling clean. It is not only my mom, her sister is afflicted by the same disease. It runs in the family. We refer to it as 'Safai Ka Mania'. Needless to say my mom and my aunt are very house proud. And however much they might rubbish it, I suspect cleaning is the most cherish able part of their existence.

Now, to this genetic composition add some conditioning. My mom was raised in a large, well-to-do family with Gandhian values. Along with many other things they were taught to be self-reliant. That translates to - do your own chores. Keep your room neat, make your own bed, put away the dirty dishes etc. etc. If my grandfather had not passed away before I was born, I would have surely asked him what was the point of having a battalion of servants if each member had to do his own chores. Ah well....

Everything was hunky dory for my mom till her world turned upside down... I came into it(upside down of course). By some quirk of fate, I escaped the oppressive cleanliness gene that ran in the family. I am deliciously dirty and lazy. My desk was always cluttered, my room had things lying all over and my cupboard resembled a laundry bag (mom's words not mine - if you ask me, I think a laundry bag is a very respectable thing). Needless to say, I was the biggest challenge to my mom's value system.
Help came to her in form of a standard three Hindi lesson that comprised of a story called 'Apna Kaam Swayam Karo' (Clean your own Crap). While the details of the story have faded from the memory, the lesson remains as fresh. Mom made sure, that it would not fade away - Do not leave your work onto others. Even though we had help at home I was supposed to do my own chores. The same set of outdated values that she learnt from her folks. So I grew up basically cursing my fate, trying to do my chores and shirking away from them whenever possible, convinced that as soon as I would escape my mother's tyranny I would live like a pig.

However, God has a terrible sense of humour. Growing up, is basically about being a butt of this sense of humour. It was when I first escaped home to live in a hostel that the curse of my conditioning dawned upon me. I made the dreadful discovery that I had not escaped the family affliction. I too hated mess. It was true that I was lazy about cleaning, however I now realised was that while it was fine for me to create a mess, but once there was no one to clean it, the mess got onto my nerves. It was shattering moment when I discovered that to be completely relaxed I needed a clean place! My perfectly normal gene had been rendered ineffective with constant conditioning.
My life has never been the same after that. There has always been that tussle between giving in to my inherent laziness and to keep my environment the way I have been used to having it.... clean.

When I moved to US, the 'Apna kaam swayam karo' motto took on a whole new meaning. Actually, it is a very Gandhian thing... as they say 'Majboori ka naam Mahatma Gandhi' [loosely translates to 'Necessity thy name greatness]. There is no other option. In addition to the personal chores now one had to run a house. In the early days when I shared an apartment with friends everything was great fun. Even cleaning was fun. We would spend every Saturday morning scrubbing away at the bathroom floors, vacuuming the house, cleaning the kitchen and getting everything in order. After that we would venture out to Olive Garden for a good meal and then for a long drive into the countryside. Doesn't that sound too good? Now, even I wonder if we actually did enjoy the cleaning or is my memory coloured by the good food and good drive that followed it.

However, as time passed cleaning was becoming a bigger and bigger and finally a monstrous chore. Busy schedules would leave me too tired to clean and a dirty house sat on my conscience like an overweight chipmunk. Finally a couple of weeks back, while scrubbing the bathroom floor I decided I had had enough. I was not born to clean bathrooms I declared to myself. Time has come for me to relieve myself of my janitor duties and the conditioning of my upbringing... I called the cleaning services.

The first time Cleaning Unlimited came to clean my house it was a disaster. The truth is that the maternal OCD genes were just dormant not dead. When I walked into the house after the cleaning, the first thing I did was lift things off the floor and scrutinize corners to make sure they had been cleaned properly and then threw a fit to find that they hadn't (and later went faint when I realised how much I really am like my mother).

The second time, they promised me a thorough job and truly, when I walked in this time, my house was sparkling clean. And then I felt it....yes, the guilt. The guilt that someone had actually walked in and seen my mess. The mess that I zealously clear away if I am expecting someone in my house. Not only had someone seen my mess they even cleaned it for me. The guilt of having shirked from good old, hallowed hard work. It made me feel less virtuous somehow. The 'Apna Kaam Swayam Karo' motto flashed before my eyes in a manner that is remniscent of the way the weighing scale flashes before your eyes after consuming a large bowl of decadent chocolate sundae topped with whipped cream.
Today was the fourth time that my house was cleaned by someone else. I must confess, the guilt is somewhat ebbing as the benefits of the exercise are showing up. I find much more time for more constructive things. I don't spend the entire week-end doing chores (or feeling guilty about not doing them) and feel far more at ease with my constantly neat and clean living space.

Those annoying words still flash before my eyes. But slowly and steadily they are altering. Let me see what I read now..

Apana Kaam Swayam ....... Kyon Karo?
P.S Sorry Gandhiji, I do think you are out of fashion now.


  1. I really enjoyed reading this piece!

  2. That's the spirit, Ritu! My aim in life is to find other people to um "delegate" my work to.:-)

  3. That was a good article, Ritu! :-)

  4. It was just beautiful and nostalgic. It has dawned to me of late , when the three men at home convert the home into a bin, that the gene has been transferred to me just as it was to mummy and mausi. We are both clones of our moms and we love being so. Great piece of writing.
    Sangeeta Saxena

  5. Even though i agree with most of the things you said.. but.. gandhi outa fashion..?? aaaa.. naaaa.. i guess.. :P

    Do gud..:D

  6. Plight of being a women........... most of us are cleanliness freaks whether we agree or not.

    Anyways, great article............


  7. That was really an enjoyable article, Ritu. I saw the link to your blog from your FB profile. You are an excellent writer, why did you stop writing?