Photographs By: Sushil Kadam
All washed up at Dhobi Ghat!
Only in a manner of speaking, of course, for ‘washed up’ is not a term one would normally apply to Mumbai’s 162 year old Dhobi Ghat.
Tourists to this city, anxious to get themselves a slice of what they think is local life, usually head to Mahalaxmi, there to gape at the long, symmetrical rows of concrete pits in which nearly three-quearters of a million pieces of clothing are washed every day. Or so we are told, usually by awestruck foreigners for whom this is a must see on their list.
It is something that Mumbaikar’s have puzzled over for a long time. Why on earth are people (read ‘outsiders’) so fascinated by the spectacle of laundry being done. ‘Quintessential Mumbai’, is another hard-to-understand expression, for it is not true that the vast majority of Mumbaikar’s get their clothes washed here. There are other dedicated dhobi ghats in the city, stretching to the northern suburbs, where millions of more pieces of clothing are washed, and for the rest, we make do ourselves.
Here are over 700 washing spots leased individually from the municipality, and work starts before sunrise and goes on till after dark. As you pass Mahalaxmi Station on your way to CST, you see the clothes lines from the bridge, everything from sheets to salwars and from hospital linen to handkerchiefs. Even if you didn’t know about the Dhobi Ghat, curiosity would drive you to the wall edging the sidewalks and there you would see it in all its glory. The Dhobi Ghat, high up on the list of things to see in Mumbai, along with the Gateway of India and the Nehru Planetarium.
Even Prince Charles came to the Dhobi Ghats, entourage in tow, making very upper-class British comments about how quaint the whole thing was, as 5000 dhobis stood on the sidelines and cheered him.
The latest is that the area is up for redevelopment. In that case, Mumbai will have to find another iconic landmark for our visitors to look at when they come to this city.