Dirty Laundry and the Dhobi

Our house resembles a dhobi ghat. Everywhere I look, I see socks, singlets and shirts stretched out to dry. It’s been raining all week in Sydney and we don’t have a dryer.

Then again, back in the Bombay of my childhood, we didn’t have a washing machine either. While a maid came in to do the “top-work” i.e. sweeping and swabbing the floor and washing our clothes, we reserved big or bulky items like bedsheets, towels and blankets for the dhobi (washerman).

After our beds were stripped bare each week, the linen was bundled into the Dirty Clothes Box. This DCB came as standard in all homes. Ours was a tall wooden rectangular one with a small door at the bottom and slats on the side. The slats allowed us to literally ‘air our dirty linen’ and keep them from getting that fusty-musty-dusty smell.

My brother, cousins and I thought the DCB made the perfect hidey-hole for our pint-sized frames when a game of ‘Hide and Seek’ was played. The wooden slats gave you a glimpse of the Seeker looking all around for the Hiders. And if you got the giggles, they were muffled by layers of bed sheets and towels.

Getting back to the dhobi: Every Saturday, our dhobi would turn up for the weekly give-and-take; he would give us the previous week’s linen all freshly laundered and ironed and take this week’s load.

Like most families, we kept a tally of the INs and OUTs in an old notebook – an olden-day Excel spreadsheet, if you will. Invariably, one item would be MIA.

The following conversation would ensue, with my Nana speaking in her version of “Hindoostani” and the dhobi in Hindi:

“Where’s the white pillowcase set with the purple embroidered flowers?” my Nana would ask sternly.

Memsahib, I returned them last week,” he would hesitatingly offer.

“No, I haven’t checked them off in my book. Make sure you get them next week.”

The laundry bundled up in a big bedspread, the dhobi would then secure this onto his bhaiya bicycle carrier, and set off to the neighbours’ houses. Then off to sea face of Bandra Bandstand or Carter Road or where the linen would get a wash and a wallop on the craggy rocks before they were wrung and spread out to dry under the blazing sun.

Next week, same time, same story.

Week after week, year after year…

…until my Uncle Chris went and bought a twin-tub washing machine.

The dhobi’s days were numbered…

* All three pictures above are not my own.

So tell me, do you follow a strict laundry system, separating your whites/brights/darks? Do you like or hate ironing? What don’t you iron?

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5 responses to “Dirty Laundry and the Dhobi

  1. Lovely read; air your dirty washing :):)
    Yep the dhobi’s work puts our house filled with wet washing into perspective really:)
    Let’s do some dhobi movements into practice tomorrow shall we?!
    G x

    Liked by 1 person

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