Monday, 1 August 2011

Dhobi Ghat

The Dhobi Ghat is a unique feature of Mumbai. It is situated near Mahalaxmi station near the Saat Rasta roundabout. It can be easily seen from the bridge of Mahalaxmi station.

Dhobi Ghat is where chaos, colour, activity and sounds mix together in a freakish blend. The name "Dhobi" refers to a person who is specialized in washing clothes and a "Ghat" is the name of the place where they wash clothes and hence "Dhobi Ghat".

The Dhobi Ghat in Mumbai has row upon row concrete wash pens, each of them fitted with a concrete flogging stone. There are nearly 700 washing platforms, each of them being nearly a century old. It is currently the world's largest open laundromat. In most cases, the ancestors took up the occupation of washing clothes evolving over time, who are bound by rules of endogamy. For some dhobis who wash clothes here, it runs down as their family business.

A dhobi is traditionally a laundryman who collects dirty clothes, wash it and return it neatly ironed to your doorstep for a mere pittance. The dhobis here generally work in the open and wash dirty and soiled clothes, bedsheets etc. which are predominantly collected from the housekeeping departments of Mumbai's hospitals and hotels. The dhobi marks a unique symbol or character on garments belonging to a particular. This is generally marked in black indelible ink to prevent it from being washed off. On an average, half a million clothes are sent for washing.

The clothes are soaked in sudsy water, which is generally covered with lather, then it is thrashed on the concrete flogging stones, then tossed into huge vats of boiling starch and then hung out to dry. Next, these clothes are neatly ironed and piled up into neat bundles. In spite of the fear that clothes might get lost or get exchanged with others, surprisingly, none of the clothes is mixed, misplaced or exchanged with each. Washing and the dyeing of clothes, giving stone wash look to jeans are the major chunk of work here.

Dhobi Ghat recently fell on the tourist map of Mumbai, owing to the Hindi film made by filmmaker Kiran Rao. The Dhobi Ghat is strangely popular with foreign tourists who generally look for a piece of quintessential "Indian-ness". It is physically difficult shooting in the winding lanes due to the lack of space. The place is naturally so beautiful that there is no way one can shoot it badly. You can shoot the Dhobi Ghat from any angle and you would go home smiling. It is like a picture postcard. The clothes line, the loops, the narrow lanes, different colours and its proximity to Mahalaxmi station makes it an amazing canvas for photography.

2 comments:

Siddhartha said...

A very informative and interesting piece of narrative.. Loved it very much.. It brought back to me the memories of my Mumbai visit.. I had passed through this place while on the way to Khar... Great piece of writing, Akshay..

Jaya Swaminathan - Vidyasagar said...

Very informative Akshay..lived in bombay for years but yet to see this place.. its inspired me to visit this one next time I'm in india :) enjoyed ur write up!