I met my Iron Man in India


If you are thinking about Iron Man, that Marvel Comics superhero geared up in his powered armour suit, all set to perform a daring rescue, please think again.

The Iron Man and his daughter at work...
My Iron Man may not fight any global cause, but he has the noble aim of getting wrinkles out of clothes with the skillful use of a traditional charcoal iron.

My encounter with this Iron Man happened in New Delhi, India.

It all started with Aaron, my nephew and his then fiancé (now wife!) who are based in Perth, Australia.

He chose to go to South India for the practical part of his studies and at the end of that semester, he arranged for his mother and fiancé to join him for a holiday in North India.

They spotted me capturing a photo of them!
Aaron, who has a special bond with India, knew that I too share a similar bond (we have been to various cities in India!) and he graciously invited me to join them on this trip to make up a comfortable foursome.

So his fiancé flew in from Perth, while his mother and I arrived from Johor Baru and we arranged to rendezvous in KLIA where we boarded a connecting flight to New Delhi. Aaron would then fly in from South India to arrive just a little after us.

In Delhi, we had accommodation arranged in a two-room homestay suburb address where the homeowners lived in the apartment above. This was our base for our side trips to Agra and Rajasthan.

This house was walking distance to nearby shops and restaurants in a residential suburb and there was plenty to see along the route in our daily short walks.

In the morning, there were fruit and vegetable vendors peddling their products from mobile carts, small permanent stalls that sold daily provisions and even a stall to buy fresh milk and yogurt.

Skillful use of traditional iron to press clothes
It did not take long for us to notice a semi-permanent stall that was set up at the street corner, directly opposite our house.

Every day, we observed as a man and a young lady were busy ironing pieces of clothing at a worktable, covered by small canvas canopy.

I was simply intrigued by the traditional charcoal fueled irons that they used to press the clothes!

It made me ponder about their ironing services and wondered if the residents here did not own any clothes pressing equipment or if they were just too lazy to press their own clothes because there was a convenient service nearby…

Maybe these people wanted to save on electricity charges, or they just wished to support a local service provider, or was this just part of the local lifestyle?

This ironing service set up by the road, was after all, an honest job.

Making a living in providing ironing services
I could not resist snapping more shots of this ironing service and when they spotted me capturing their photograph, I took it as an opportunity to approach them for a chit-chat.

The young lady replied my curious questions in English and told me that she was a university undergraduate who helped her father at the stall whenever she could.

I have seen traditional charcoal irons before but only on display in museums.

And at this stall, these traditional irons were still in normal used!

Iron Man and his daughter might have thought that I was weird because I was thrilled to see how the smoldering charcoal within the hollow was heated into glowing embers before the iron was ready for use.

Heating charcoal within the traditional irons
These traditional irons must have weighed so heavy, but they have clearly mastered the art of lifting and using the hot surfaces to smooth out every wrinkle in the garments they ironed.

I watched with interest as they skillfully ironed – mostly garments in solid white – without any charcoal ash escaping from the iron to dirty the surfaces that were silky smooth as they passed the hot flat irons over the garments.

So, there we were at their stall by the road in a suburb of New Delhi, with an Iron Man who made a decent living, by providing ironing services to earn a few Rupees for ironing each piece of garment.

To me, he was literally the original Iron Man!