The Dhobi ghat at Mahalaxmi in Mumbai is a colourful place. In ways more than one. They dye clothes there. They are also a microcosm of splendid life colours.
The Dhobi ghat is accessible to all – unlike the gated colonies, where a guard notes your details and asks for permission from the resident before allowing you to enter. There are people from outside Maharashtra here; many from Uttar Pradesh, some from Andhra, may be from others as well. They came decades earlier in this place which was established more than a century ago by the Britishers. The locals claim, it was originally built with much engineering skill – with rows of small water tanks and piped water supply 24 hours. These tanks are still used – the manual wash with a ‘ वूश वूश ‘ sound exhaled by the dhobi, as he strikes hard clothes on the stone is admirable. Not sure if the machines wash clothes that well ! Many have installed big machines – since they wash hundreds of clothes together and save manual labour. There are also drying machines, dyeing machines etc. One person is boiling starch for application to clothes.
Sunil (name changed) clad in his underwear is a handsome young boy manually washing clothes. He says he is from UP and his entire family has gone to village. He, born and brought up on Mumbai, doesn’t like it much back in village and stays back. His naukar is on leave today and therefore he is washing himself. He puts white clothes separate in a tank with chemical. He has washed them meticulously with good soap application and hard hitting on stone with a वूश वूश. Coloured clothes are washed separate. Other days, he collects laundry from across. Clothes from far off areas of Mumbai reach this Dhobi Ghat. Sunil collects clothes directly from homes. His neighbour, who is washing in a machine collects from laundries.
The clothes are washed in the morning. Afternoon they are put up for drying. In rains, they use drying machines – ( those who don’t have their drying machines use others’ machines). Work doesn’t stop in Mumbai.
The children go to nearby schools. Many people bath near their small houses. There is a public toilet, that they use. Such a closed congested space will not provide the leisure of open defecation, any way 🙂
Overall, dhobi ghat is a good representation of Mumbai spirit – cosmopolitan, hard working, skillful, niched.