Illustration of a man doing the dishes at the kitchen sink

Ready to Single | Dishes and the Zen of Washing Them

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?” 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, and smelling 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 sliced and diced plant produce releases its innate aroma. Like most people, I relish eating too, and have my weighing scale to vouch. 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.

A small boy gazing at a dish-washing scrubber while accompanied by his mom at the sink

What I do love however is the kitchen activity that comes a bit after cooking. No, not eating; that usually happens outside the kitchen. I talk of… dish-washing. Now, that is therapeutic. The smell of the bar / powder / liquid (take your pick) as it comes out of the container matches that of those veggies I just talked about. The water running over your hands, tingling your palms as it does so. The soft foam that envelops 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 energizing. 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 fog. 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 (ah, that’s how I am able to do so much washing), it also provides me a break from my work, 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 the twain shall meet.

Quote by Agatha Christie on washing dishes

But I think the real reason I dig dish-washing is a bit more core. (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.

Poster art of Hindu Trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva

The Hindu Trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva

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. Unsurprisingly, 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 sanitized, 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 like 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. I caught it firmly in its upward action, 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 of this toward the end.) Why, I could even be their brand ambassador.


Actually, no, I am so keen about dish-washing that I wouldn’t share this load. My domestic helps first amaze at my desire to retain this chore for myself, and then turn sour at the realization 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 Bill, has gone on record from time to time 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 its business plan though, I of course have some dishes to go wash.

I wrote this piece for The Hindu’s thREAD. Here’s the edited version on their site: This piece on thREAD