“Eeka, come and help me with the dishes!” said Amma in an irritable tone. It was Friday evening, one week into lockdown.
“Why do I have to do it? Ask him to do it,” said my sister, pointing a finger at me. I was relaxing on the Barcalounger, playing chess online with a friend of mine. “I already cut vegetables for lunch today. Besides, didn’t you agree to do the dishes anyway?” I retorted.
She raised her voice in protest. “Why does he get to do the easy tasks while I get the difficult ones? It’s not fair!”
“Who said cutting vegetables is easy? I spent an entire hour destringing runner beans in the morning while you were rolling around in your bed until 11 o’clock. I also put the clothes to dry on the terrace today. Now leave me alone,” I said.
Amma reminded us that we had promised to help her out in the absence of the maid. I grudgingly ended the chess game and went to help my sister with the dishes. She winked at me. “If I’m going down, I’ll make sure to take you with me,” she said with a wicked smile.
Later that evening, Amma and I were sitting on the terrace taking in the breeze. Feeling hard done by the fact that I had to help with the dishes despite spending a large part of my productive morning doing house work, I came up with a plan. “Amma, a lot of the household chores aren’t inherently fun, so we start to run from it. I’m thinking of a way to make the process more enjoyable. We also need a way to quantify our work. How about a points system?”
“I’m listening,” she said.
“We can have points for every task that we complete. The only condition is, it should be an activity that benefits the whole household. So, you won’t be awarded anything for making your own bed, for example.”
“On the other hand, if you fail to wash your own coffee mug or dinner plate, you’ll be given negative points for making another person’s job more difficult,” she chipped in. “Sounds interesting. Where do we start?”
“We need to make a list of tasks, and rate them in terms of difficulty,” I said.
We soon sat together and drew up the list. Tasks like cooking, dishes, stepping out for essential purchases and sweeping the floor had points on the higher side of the scale. Less intensive activities like opening the door to collect milk first thing in the morning, lighting the lamps and dumping the garbage had fewer points. Once the list was roughly in place, we had to get the buy-in of others in the house.
Next day during lunch, we opened this topic to my sister and Appa. “What does the winner get?” asked my sister after patiently listening to the rules.
“How does it matter? You’re not going to win anyway,” I said.
“Oh, let’s see about that. I’m already ten points up for sweeping and mopping the floor in the morning,” she said. “So am I,” said Appa leaning into the conversation. “I made coffee in the morning.” “Making coffee isn’t ten points. But okay, let’s get going,” said Amma and thus we began the contest.
We made a leaderboard. Amma would judge the tasks and award points at the end of each day. We didn’t keep any explicit prize. The joy that one gets from defeating someone was enough of a motivation to get this started.
First week belonged to my sister. She consistently took up heavy duty tasks like mopping floors, cleaning vessels and rinsing clothes and left the rest of us reeling in the dust. She won by a 25 point margin. Second week was closer. I was leading till the last morning, when I pulled a muscle while working out and took a break for the rest of the day. She literally scrubbed every surface of the house clean to overtake me and win the contest by six points.
The competition was heating up, with both of us trying to catch incomplete jobs by the other. Points were deducted for leftover bowls in the bedrooms and for false claims. I filled five jugs of water one afternoon, but my sister went and complained to Amma that I filled only two. I showed her I filled five and tried to dock a point for a wrongful claim. Appa agreed with me and my sister made a huge fuss, complaining that he always picked my side when Amma came out and docked one more point for poor behaviour. Professor Snape would have been proud.
Week three was the most hotly contested. My sister needed to be prevented from a hat trick of wins. Moreover, she got awarded ten points at the start of the week for the good work done in the previous two weeks. So I had to pull my weight and work extra smart. I started stacking up points by making breakfast and lunch on weekends, as well as going to the grocery store on alternate days to get something or the other! Cleaning and chopping veggies had become my own. I took the honours for the week although some late rat extermination shenanigans by my sister threatened to undo all the hard work. In the end, the victory margin was just two points! End of week three, Eeka 2-1 Aahir.
Amidst all this competition and race to win, we seem to have brought Amma some much needed respite. I’ve also begun to understand how physically demanding the household chores are and made a mental note to never take things for granted anymore.
As I try to wrap up this entry, I see Amma almost done with Appa’s haircut in the verandah. If I make it in time, I could get four solid points for cleaning up the mess! Week four, here I come.
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