Dhobi ghats are a staple of any town, city or village. They have been around for centuries, yet urban India seems to have cast aside their memories. India is the only country in the world that has the concept of professional washers using a specially-constructed washing area. Dhobi ghats, usually consist of a stream of water, a pool (an area of the stream cordoned off) cement tubs and an area to dry the washing. Hyderabad has quite a few dhobi ghats that are old and most of them are situated near Charminar on the banks of the Musi or the Lower Tank Bund at the Hussainsagar. Aishwarya Yerra & A Sudheer Reddy report
60 Is the average number of families who send their clothes and linen to washer-men to be washed every week
500 Is the number of itemsa dhobi (washerman) washes every day
30% Is the proportion of business the city’s dhobis have lost to washing machines
6am to noon The hours washer-men work at the ghat. They then go home and iron the clothes and linen they have washed.
A close-knit community
The government builds ghats for the washer community and every ghat has a registration number. Each one has 60 to 80 members and are not open to new members. Every day, around 20 washer-men come there to do their washing. Some wash every day and some come twice a week.
The washer-men’s usual clients are joint families, hotels, lodges, hospitals and beauty parlours. When hotels want to employ them for their washing services, dhobis submit their quotations and hotels choose the best price.
Big clients like hotels and hospitals pay a lower rate of `3 to `4 per item because they deal in bulk. Others pay `5 to `6 per item.
What they need
The complaint all washer-men have is that the ghat is not equipped with a toilet and since they work for long hours, it becomes very uncomfortable. The ghats show signs of gross neglect and the dhobis lament that local MLAs or MPs never look into improving their ‘workplace’. It is overrun by weeds and in some cases trash.
The washing process
Every kind of fabric calls for slight changes in the washing process but the steps involved in washing whites are
1. Soak the clothes in chemicals
2. Use soap and scrub them with a brush
3. Soak in bleach
4. Apply starch
5. Spread the wash on the line to dry
6. Iron the dried clothes at home in the evening