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Friday, November 21, 2014

Dhobi Ghat Mumbai, India: Airing Your Dirty Laundry Here is Perfectly OK


In the song "Black Water" by the Doobie Brothers, Patrick Simmons sings about a trip he made to Uptown New Orleans to have his laundry done "Well if it rains, I don't care - Don't make no difference to me, Just take that street car that's goin' uptown". In a totally unrelated matter to the aforementioned American rock band, In the well known open air laundromat called the Dhobi Ghat, the similarly sounding Dhobis - a caste group in India known to work primarily as clothes-washers, can be seen anytime of the day washing and hanging dirty clothes along a  gigantic laundry space complete with wash pens and flagging stones. 

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Since most of the stuff they wash belongs to the city's hospitals and hotels, viewing the Dhobi Ghat from afar provides you a colorful visual of printed bed sheets, linens, sky blue jeans, red carpets, cream colored pillow cases, pink and violet hospital uniforms and much more. Being the world's largest open-air laundromat, It has become a popular tourist attraction in Mumbai - just another one of the country's many interesting sights and unique living practices.

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An unusual spectacle for us travelers to witness, but knowing the fact the the Dhobi Ghat is inhabited by more than 200 Dhobi families who have been earning a living by washing clothes for decades - from one generation to another, makes me wonder if there is a line along the path that someone from their family would escape to another easier and more rewarding profession. 

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However, further reading after I got home I learned that the Dhobis really pride themselves in this business and in the caste system of India, it is very important for them to fill out a role in their society. It is said that at any time of the day one could spot at least 8,000 Dhobis working at the Dhobi Ghat in a practice that dates back to the British rule.

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We arrived there almost late noon already, so we weren't able to see the actual act of washing the clothes, instead we only caught a glimpse of the remaining Dhobis hanging the day's laundered clothing forming a seemingly endless line and under a sunny sky - it is only a matter of time before they would completely dry all of it. 

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Still, the sight of the hanged clothing items are staggering that stretches from end to end. Because the place of Dhobi Ghat has become synonymous to washing clothes, it is now widely used all over India to indicate a place where clothes washers are present. 

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From our vantage point at the bridge near the Mahalaxmi railway station, Aileen and I had a great view of the Dhobi Ghat. Coming from a country that shares a lot of attributes with India, with the third world setting, population, street activities and chaos, the sight of people doing laundry in public is nothing new to me. I see it all the time near the rivers, outside people's houses, on the sidewalks. But, the sheer size of a collective open-air laundromat like Dhobi Ghat, I admit - it's exceptional appeal cannot be denied.  

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I wonder what the air down there smells like, would a trail of fabric conditioner dominate the air? I wished I found some time to go down and check it up close but the busy stairs leading to it probed to be enough of a roadblock for me to just watch the proceedings from above.

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In a city which is everything that is advertised, one that will definitely blow all your senses away. Mumbai fascinates to no end, it endlessly provide interesting scenes and traditional practices that may seem otherworldly or an almost similar but at a grander scale such as Dhobi Ghat. 

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After a few minutes we walked away and under the ruthless rays of the sun and in a city long far from the windy weather of Agra and the state of Rajasthan, I felt the batterings of the heat for the first time since our arrival in Kolkata. I imagined what it is like being a Dhobi at the Ghat, washing clothes all my life and handing down this respectable, admirable yet back breaking job to my children and their children. That thought left me a thousand realizations and things worth pondering about.



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