It was the mechanical sound of repeated brushing and forceful whipping that woke me. The brushing I’d become accustomed to by now – a couple of the children preparing the courtyard for the day ahead – but the whipping sound baffled me. I’d only been staying at the orphanage for a week.
I shuffled into my flip flops – so stained by the deep red, all-engulfing Southern Indian dust that they were now unrecognisable – and hurried down the stairs, three at a time.
Hidden away behind the sleeping huts, I discovered some of the children, whipping wet clothes against large, flat rocks. The boys ranged in age from about five to twelve, and were doing their weekly clothes wash.
Each boy stood beside a pile of his own washing, meticulously scrubbing every individual garment with a bar of soap. Next, each item was submerged in cold, soapy water, given a good beating against the ‘washing rock’, a rinse in clean water and another sequence of ‘draining’ whacks against the rock. It was now deemed eligible to be added to the pile of clean clothes. The ritual continued, until one of the boys approached me, whispering, ‘get clothes to wash, Auntie’.
I’d returned within a second, and then there I was: an English girl being taught to wash her clothes properly by a group of Indian boys.
It was harder than it originally looked; not only physically, but mentally. It felt like a game, yet these boys did this every week, taking pride in their appearance and refusing to look anything but immaculate.
There was a tiny giggle. Two beady eyes looked down at me from the wall above. The smallest boy in the orphanage had revealed his favourite hiding place; and I had whipped my wet shirt in completely the wrong way.