Tuesday, September 22, 2015


A very conspicuous presence in our day to day life during my growing years was that of the Dhobi. In urban households dhobi would mark his presence once in a week in the morning whwn he would deliver the washed clothes and collect the dirty ones to be washed by him and delivered next week . The practice was followed like a ritual. Every household had a family dhobi who once engaged would continue for years till the client changed his place of residence or in case of a Government employee, transfer took him away to some other station. A dhobi was conspicuous and easily recognizable by his white kurta, white dhoti and jutties with upturned toe, always carrying a bundleor a ‘gathri’ of clothes on his back. The linen clothes that were given to him for washing were white bed sheets, white bed covers , quilt covers and last but not the least white cotton shirts , an essential part of school uniform and a preferred colour of office going people. In our locality, dhobis used to come from dhobighat , just on the fringe of famous Annadale ground , just below it. The reason behind the choice of place by dhobis was plenty of water available in a khud flowing nearby and ample sunshine from morning till evening, which helped the washed linen dry quickly.The clothes were washed in washing soda and collar of shirts were starched. From some vantage point linen drying in the sun could be seen from a distance.Since most of the linen or the clothes were white , there was every chance of getting these mixed up , but to avoid this , dhobi would put a separate identification mark in indelible ink on the linen of a particular household . There is an idiom –to wash your dirty linen in public- but yes dirty linen was literally washed and left to dry in public . The dhobi whose services we continued to avail for years was one Bhagwati Prasad. My father used to call him baretha (बरेठा ). I did not know the meaning of this word until I found out from the google that it is a synonym for dhobi. But then my late father possessed a vast vocabulary of such like terms.
Dhobis almost always walked in a group of three or four, as talking while walking was the best way of fighting fatigue caused by steep ascent from Annadale right up to the circular road , then called the cart road.
All dhobis were seen together on the day next to Holi when they would celebrate Hola and take a procession , visibly drunk , rejoicing all the way .
It is decades since I encountered one of their ilk, as most of the washing is done at home , thanks to washing machines available in every household.

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