I am born and brought up in the bustling city of Mumbai! The city imparts a value of hard work. Right from the ‘Dabbawala’ (People who deliver lunch to your workplace) to the ‘Dhobi’ (the washerman), these chaps have a critical role to play in setting the city’s wheels in motion. The city’s fast paced life would have gone amuck if it were not for them!
I was intrigued by the way Keshav worked. Keshav, is our family ‘Dhobi’. He will manually cycle his way, from one end of the city to another collecting dirty laundry and delivering a clean and ironed lot in the attempt to earn an ungenerous sum. Keshav invests in a dint of hard work in order to support his family. The years of work has rendered him a robust and muscular physic. He stated that he started assisting his father and grandfather from his boyhood years. He has now mastered the trick of the trade. Keshav has been continuing a legacy that was started by his great-grandfather, right from the British era. He hopes that his sons will join him soon brining about a revolution in the business with the education that they have received.
Image Credit: Hindustan Times
I once asked Keshav to give me a detailed insight into his life and he smilingly invited me to his humble home. His family zestfully walked me across the sprawling 23 (approximate) acres of land. I was simply awe-struck to witness the ongoing in the world’s largest human powered Laundromat. ‘Dhobi Ghat’, as it’s famously referred to by city dwellers, is strategically premised within the epicentre of plush residential and commercial complexes of South Mumbai. When I looked around, I realized I grew up in the lap of luxury; cut out from the organized lines of seeming chaos! I peered on from the Mahalaxmi Bridge to find endless rows of clothes soaking the morning sun. The pandemonium put me in a tizzy, but as Keshav walked me around I realized that the system was uniquely synced to optimize time and space, and was even more organized than I had thought.
Garments are marked with a special number or code; with indelible ink. This ensures that the cloth always reaches the correct owner. Also the garments are arranged by colour. The Dhobi’s follow a tried and tested, yet superficially efficient system that takes care of the sorting, washing ironing and drying. In a nutshell, the system incorporates management at it’s best. An aspiring B-school goer must visit the site.
Image Credit: India Times
The heritage site has a number of anecdotes to offer its onlookers. The friendly Dhobi’s happily chat with me as their hands motion on continuing with the days work. They work on stringent deadlines and ensure deliverables reach their clients at the requested hour. The city’s erratic weather doesn’t hold the dhobi back. They are accustomed to working even in the harshest conditions. Dhobi Ghat can be accessed through a number of entry points. Work begins as early as 5.30 a.m., and they continue to work till 10.30 p.m. . The site has lured tourist from the world over. Even Bollywood bigwigs have captured the nuances of Dhobi Ghat in some eminent films.
I learnt of the history of Dhobi Ghat as I meandered through the by lanes, amid swirling soapy trails. The Dhobi Ghat is a 140-year-old institution that was established to cater to the washing needs of the British officials and the Parsi’s. It is an institution, as they have over 5000 washermen families working in unison over the generations; catering to the city’s laundry services.
Image Credit: Mumbai 77
Today the laundry facilities extend to an array of corporate houses, hotels, residents and many more. The floor comprises of an approximate 740 wash pens and washing stones. The dhobi’s artfully flog the cloth on the stone in the attempt to clean it of any dirt. Flogging the cloth is considered an art, as they tackle an array of fabrics and textile variations with minimum or zero harm.
The system is now equipped with some sparing modern amenities like a dryers. But most of them still rely on daylight to dry clothes. The government aims at providing for better housing facilities to this palpable workforce. Some distinguished realtors have joined hands with the government in order to provide for houses complete with modern amenities. Some of the families have even started moving into high rises erected by the government. The government is attempting to beautify the area surrounding areas of the heritage ghat.
Image Credit: India Times
As a writer, I offer my heartfelt salute to this workforce. The respect they earn outshines the wages, which is precisely what keeps them going.
Written by Heer Kothari