It was a stark contrast as you took a few steps away from Mahalaxmi station in Mumbai. Amidst the towering highrises, was a place below, known as Dhobi ghat. Asia’s largest open space laundry. Housing 350 cubes – and a community of over 5,000 dhobis and their families, washing over 10,000 clothes daily. So much could happen in that little chequered place down there? Woah! Awesome isn’t it?
When you enter Dhobi Ghat, you are in another world altogether. It’s a world of cubicles, but unlike office ones, these are rooted to the ground. The place smells of detergents and their froth. We are told that only a particular dhobi community is given access and allowed to work in dhobighat. Mostly these migrants come from UP but occasionally also from AP. The place also has very tiny homes where these migrants live. Almost 8-10 people in a small square room just about enough to fit four people. The work starts from 5 AM onward and extends for straight 14 hours a day. Laundry comes from across the city, right upto Virar. Most dry cleaners outsource their laundry to dhobi ghat – and dhobi ghat charges upto 10 Rs. per piece of cloth for the process. Other part of the business happens through hotel chains (not the 5 star ones, but mid level hotels) and hospitals. Although now, hospitals and hotels have found their own in-house ways of doing laundry, so Dhobi ghat innovates. They collect sarees from households in exchange of brand new vessels. They wash, dry and iron these sarees and sell them at a heavily discounted rate in the markets and make money out of it.
Most people here are laborers. Occasionally you see their wives and children sauntering around the place. The look you get, is that of look how ignorant urban dwellers have come to marvel and take pictures of our plight. You can almost see a sarcastic smile. And you suddenly feel very small. The music changes – and to grins of many fellow members, one could hear bihari film songs being played loud and clear. There was even the bihari rock! Many may smirk, but as Piyush Pandey would say – it’s an insight! It’s not without reason that regional films, music and advertising is so important. Nothing connects like local language. Nothing can beat that! Not even in Mumbai.
After Dhobi ghat, we take a brief walk into chor bazaar – or as they say, shor bazaar. Apparently it’s not a market full of stolen goods, but yes it’s a grey market for sure. On a Sunday, there’s a certain laze in the air. We get suspicious looks as we walk through a comparatively quiet market. But as we delve deeper, we see some fantastic antique stores. I am sure if I had an agenda to shop, I would have found far cheaper stuff here!! old phones, typewriters, old cameras and what not!
After a quick tryst with chor bazaar, we help ourselves to one of the best icecreams on Mohammed Ali road – called Taj icecreams and are served delicious helpings of fresh mango, sitaphal and strawberry icecreams! With some awesome memories, and great perspectives (you’re never gonna get all that sitting in hotels/palaces/bunglows and 70th floor flats) we depart! Till such time we decide to discover yet another side to this magic called Mumbai.
This photowalk was organized by the founder of this amazing facebook group called Globetrotting Girls India with the help of a couple of really smart youngsters who were our guides from Dharavi 🙂