For the last image of my series on Mumbai, I wanted to share this picture of Mahalaxmi Dhobi Ghat, an outdoor laundry in southern Mumbai. Like the other two images I’ve shared, I captured this while wandering around the city with a guide. When we started this particular tour, the guide had asked me what I wanted to see, and I told him that while I’d been to India several times before, I didn’t have a good sense for what life was like for the average person. He responded with an “ah, got it” and off we went. This was a our first stop.
This particular outdoor laundry was built in 1890 and is (or at least was) the largest outdoor laundry in the world. I have of course seen people doing laundry outside before, but I’d never seen a place where people were employed to do other people’s laundry – outside. It was a truly fascinating sight. My guide explained that the laundry was originally constructed to do the laundry of the British dignitaries and military members, but when India gained its independence in 1947, the dhobis (the individuals that work in the outdoor laundry) started doing laundry for area hotels, hospitals, and just members of the community (lots of the khaki colored clothes you see are the uniforms of taxi and rickshaw drivers). There are a number of these outdoor laundry facilities across Mumbai and India, and it is estimated that over 7,000 people are employed at these type facilities in Mumbai alone. The workers stand in vats of soapy water and wash the clothes there, and then beat them against flogging stones, which are part of the design of the vat (you can see some more images of the place on Wikipedia). Once clean the workers hang the clothes on ropes to air dry. Rather than using clothes pins, the racks are setup using braided ropes, and the workers simply pinch a corner of the laundry in the braid of the rope, and the weight of it all holds it in place. Another interesting thing to note is that the workers all generally live here as well, so the surrounding areas with roofs on them are people’s homes.
There was lots about this scene that caught my eye. I was first drawn to all the colors, and then just more generally to what all was happening in front of me. I noted above that this particular outdoor laundry had been the largest in the world, however my guide explained that it had been slowly shrinking, as the surrounding neighborhoods were encroaching. I felt this was most obviously communicated by all the construction of high-rise buildings going on in the background. As with the first image in this series, the contrast between the two ends of the economic divide within India is quite staggering.
Well this concludes my series on Mumbai, I hope you enjoyed it and perhaps learned something. Next week Picture of the Week will return to the US, but not quite home just yet.
Have a great week!
Dhobi Ghat - Outdoor Laundry
|1, Anandilal P Marg, Dhobi Ghat, Shanti Nagar, Lower Parel, Mumbai, Maharashtra 400011, India|