I have many weaknesses — understatement, that — but my biggest one has to do with cleaning gizmos. I can turn my back on an iPhone, and recently did. Perfumes — Joy Jean Patou and Chanel No. 5 excepting — don’t do Jack for me; and those, as all my young hip friends keep reminding me, are my grandmother’s perfumes. I enjoy handbags, shoes and flirty cocktail dresses as well as the next gal but what really gets me salivating are cleaning gadgets.
Neatnik nanny: Do you love to clean, but don’t care about cleanliness?
I am not talking here about the jhadu — that stalwart of house-cleaning that is the birthright of every Indian house. I am talking here about newfangled “cleaning solutions” that claim to shine your home to a sparkle without your having to shake a limb.
I occasionally wonder why I am fascinated by cleaning gizmos, especially since I am not a very tidy person. I mean, it is not as if I live in a pile of rubbish or anything drastic like that. It is just that I can pick my way past discarded clothes, books and toys all littering the floor without breaking a step or sweat. I agree with my teenage nephew that bathing on a daily basis is hugely overrated; I don’t see the logic of making a bed particularly when you have to unmake it at day’s end. I am not particularly house-proud. But show me a new mop or a microfibre cloth that claims to pick up dust and my eyes light up. I cannot stop myself from becoming the latest sucker to succumb.
A large cupboard in my apartment is filled to the brim with cleaning stuff of all sorts that I barely use. But I take comfort in the knowledge that when, and if, I decide to clean my home, I have everything that I need at arm’s reach. Vacuum cleaner — got it; multiple bottles of biodegradable cleaning fluids in every hue of the rainbow — yep, got that. Mops, scrubs, scourers, sponges, you name it, I have it.
The latest object of my desire is a funky new gadget called the Roomba, available from iRobot online. This robotic thing, which is about the size of a bicycle tyre, claims to rotate all by itself and pick up dust, dirt, germs and any other offensive matter on the floor. The best part is that you don’t have to do a thing. All you do is sit there and shuck peanuts, toss the shells on the floor if you wish, and the Roomba will rotate its way to neatnik nirvana. Turn on the switch and 15 minutes later, you have a clean room. Who cannot succumb to this fantasy? The Roomba is pricey (about $500; approx. Rs21,000), but the other big fad among my American friends are microfibre cloths. They cost about $5 for a dozen, and promise to do many things: wipe your counters clean, wring out every last drop of moisture from your wine glasses, and promote peace, goodwill and understanding among all the nations of the world. Whether these microfibre cloths achieve all they promise, I know not. All I know is that the other day, I came home with a suitcase stuffed with them and a glazed look in my eyes; like I had dropped Acid or something.
In my heyday, when I cleaned my apartment without help of any sort, I owned a veritable treasure trove of gadgets. I still have the remnants which gather dust in my balcony. The Swiffer mop was my pet; my maid hates it but I can’t bear to throw it out. It was a magical vacuum cleaner that spritzed cleaning liquid on the floor in front with the touch of a button. Then you smartly pushed the mop back and forth like those ladies in vacuum cleaner ads and were left with a shining floor; or not.
But cleaning isn’t really the point of owning these gadgets. The pleasure of owning a Swiffer mop or a Roomba robot or the giant Karcher steam cleaner that is gathering dust in my gift cupboard doesn’t come from the end result. With all these products, cleaning is not the goal; it is merely the method behind the madness. These products are for people like me — people who love to clean but don’t care about cleanliness.
Take my Karcher vacuum cleaner, for instance. I bought it during my biodegradable phase, when every detergent and soap I used had to be free of phosphates, sulphites and every other ion that dared to sully the earth. The Karcher cleans only with…hold your breath…boiled water. You pour about four buckets of water into its container and, 20 minutes later, it would turn into steam which would spray out of the cleaning nozzle, thus giving you clean floors, windows, and even sofas. Steam cleaning is the oldest thing there is after all. The only problem is that it involves a whole lot of wires, multiple nozzles, and you have to drag the thing from room to room. Nowadays, we use it but barely.
To use management jargon, there are two types of people in the world: people who enjoy the process and people who enjoy the product; and never can the twain meet, at least in my mind. Most of you managerial types are superb executors; you deliver the goods, you are responsible and accountable for high-quality products, and live by what’s-his-name’s-the- coach’s motto: “Winning is everything” (Vince Lombardi). But there is the other group: the touchy-feely, process types; people who clean for the sheer pleasure of it.
I am one of those process junkies; I don’t stress about the product. I can swipe a floor back and forth all day and not worry about whether it is making a dent on the layers of dirt that are gathered there. My idea of a relaxing afternoon is to take a safety pin and clean out the spaces in between the comb. Useless enterprise, I know. Cheaper to buy a new comb, I know. But how to put a price on the pleasure it gives? I sit on my balcony, gathering sunshine, listening to the birds and painstakingly clean the dirt in between my comb.
Ideas spew forth from my brain, one more deranged than the other. But at least they spew. Cleaning gizmos are like that. They may not make your floor cleaner than an old-fashioned jhadu. But they make the whole process a lot more pleasurable.
Shoba Narayan uses her Karcher vacuum cleaner to boil water for her tea. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org