In­dian wash­er­men keep tra­di­tion alive de­spite daily re­spon­si­bil­i­ties

Kuwait Times - - TECHNOLOGY -

Stand­ing knee deep in a ce­ment tank of milky wa­ter, Di­nesh Kumar dunks clothes be­fore vig­or­ously scrub­bing them with a brush at an out­door laun­dry in the In­dian cap­i­tal. Af­ter quit­ting high school, Kumar joined his fa­ther among the ranks of tra­di­tional wash­er­men who have hand-cleaned the sprawl­ing city’s dirty clothes for gen­er­a­tions. Over the years, the work of “dhobi wal­lahs” has mod­ernised to a de­gree, with in­dus­trial ma­chines now used at some laun­dries for wash­ing heav­ier loads of cur­tains, bed cov­ers and tow­els.

But 32-year-old Kumar said most of the wash­ing was still done by hand. The more del­i­cate and ex­pen­sive gar­ments also needed to be han­dled care­fully to en­sure sewn-on beads or em­broi­dery were not dam­aged. “I start work at the crack of dawn and wash about 100 clothes by evening,” Kumar told AFP as wash­er­men nearby swung damp trousers over their heads be­fore thrash­ing them against con­crete stone slabs.

Af­ter ev­ery wash in a milky bath of bleach and de­ter­gent, Kumar in­spects the clothes closely to en­sure they are spot­lessly clean. “Most of the clothes come here from ho­tels, em­bassies or beauty par­lors. If we don’t wash prop­erly, they will stop send­ing the clothes over.”

Once the clothes are scrubbed, Kumar rinses them in the ce­ment tub, wear­ing a plas­tic sheet around his waist to stop his rolled-up trousers get­ting wet. Such so-called “dhobi ghats” are nor­mally set up next to a river, but these wash­er­men in New Delhi rely on well wa­ter stored in ce­ment tanks and pools for their sup­ply. Af­ter the clothes are hung out on lines strung up on ter­race rooftops to dry, they are ironed, of­ten by the women in the wash­er­mens’ fam­ily. But Ram Lal Kano­jia, who runs another small laun­dry nearby, said younger gen­er­a­tions were not keen on join­ing the fam­ily busi­ness, as In­dia’s econ­omy grows rapidly. “My chil­dren are study­ing com­put­ers and man­age­ment. They don’t want to wash clothes all their life like me,” said Kano­jia, who earns about 25,000 ru­pees ($374) a month. “It’s too much hard work and not much money.”—AFP

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