Thursday, 31 March 2011

Dhobi -The Indian Iron and Laundry man

The dhobi  or  laundry and  iron man in India  is  an institution in himself. In  fact  a dhobi caste exists and  is  recognized  and scheduled  by  the  government as  a  caste  in  need  of  empowerment.

With  the age  of  the  washing machine and  dhobis turning  to more  educated  and respectable  professions - (they  have special privileges  and  education and job  allotments,)   fewer  dhobis remain in the  fray.

There was  once  a  time  when every one (except  for  the  economically  backward) used  the  services  of  a  dhobi.

The  dhobi man  came  to  your  house  on his  bicycle to  collect  your  weekly laundry . Everything from  linen, to  all  sorts   of  garments , kitchen cloths,  bed  covers, sheets curtains even under wear (if  you so wanted) was  unloaded from  the family 's  laundry closet or  bag by  the dhobi. He  would then  seperate  each item according  to its nature and  gather  them  into  orderly piles. The  lady  of  the  house would  then come out  with  a  laundry book in which she  had  a list of all the  clothes to be  washed . As  she  called out the  name of  the  item,  the dhobi would  count the  number and  and tell the   memsahib. She  would  then enter it  in her  laundry book.  For  example
Saris -5
Towels - 8
Shirts - 11
Tablecloths (big)- 2
Tablecloths (small) -5 and so forth.

After that  the  dhobi would lay  out the  freshly washed  and  ironed  clothes which he  had  taken last  week and   lay  them out neatly on a  clean  spread  or carpet. Then  the accounting would begin in reverse  order. This  ritual would  be  repeated  once or  twice  a week.

The  dhobis  were   very  honest  and reliable,  but  occasionally clothes  would  disappear. Everyone  had  a  family  dhobi. Ours  was an ancient man who died  several  years  ago. His  sons  all have   very   good jobs  and  no one  pursued  this  lowdown laborious  profession.

The  dhobiji would  carry  the  laundry   wrapped  up  in  a  large  cotton sheet on the  back of  his  bicycle. They  also  used  donkeys -  specially  to  transport laundry to the dhobi ghat ( community washing  areas) or  riverside .

The  clothes  would be  pressed  with a  charcoal fired  iron box,  they  had  modern  electric  irons  too.

Now  of   course with modernization set  in, very  few  dhobis  are  around. They  are  more expensive  too. Laundry women (dhobins) can come to  your  house   and   do  your   laundry  by hand, then take the  dry  clothes (in the  evening) to  be ironed   in their  homes. And then there  are   the  advanced  , state  of  the   art dry cleaners  and laundries.

In the  good  old days I  was  given the  chore  of maintaining  the laundry book. It was fun. I  miss them old  times - the  smell  and touch  of  the   dhobi 's laundry.

Just  down the  down from  our  gate  a iron man sets  up  his  street  business.
He  presses  people 's  clothes. Different rates   for each item. He is  using  the  ancient iron, filled  with  charcoal embers. I sometimes give him   the  more  tricky clothes  to iron like  cotton  and  silk saris. He  does an excellent job.

( the  above  3  photos  were  shot  by me)
Did any one  of  you  use  a  laundry man  like him?

This morning my Sheeba (dog) killed
a field rat - a huge  one.
Well done  Sheeba-
she ' s really in the hunting  mood  now.
We  are  harvesting lots of  tomatoes .
When (no ifs here) you come  to visit me
I will give  you a  bag full.
Soon instead of  blood  I will
be having tomato juice running
in my  veins.
I  am making  lots  of puree to  preserve.

20 Fertilize my soul:

Anonymous said...

Very interesting..My dad brought home a Vietnamese iron very similar to the one that you pictured....its very heavy...and has a rooster at the top...
in the States we all mostly do our own laundry...of course, there are laundromats and dry cleaners also..

FlowerLady Lorraine said...

What an interesting post about your culture. We have a couple of old irons similar to the one used in the pictures, that we got when we were living in Spain.

I have a washing machine, but I hang the laundry to dry on lines outdoors. Love the scent of sun dried laundry.


Nadwrażliwiec said...

This iron is like iron of my grandmother, which had also her grandmother - it could have about 100 years and what is more interesting - it could work even today :)
Sometimes I think - what will happen, if we suddenly wouldn't have electricity? Today in Europe almost everything is based on electricity. What if we won't have it, for example because of big flood or other natural disaster? People like man from Your photoes probably wouldn't feel it. But we probably could have even hunger or war.

Simply Shelley said...

There used to be women who took ironing into their homes as a way to make extra money....don't hear of it much anymore though...I don't think many any own a iron and ironing board these days...I do though :)
Blessings to you dear Amrita.

Becky said...

i just love your posts!

DeanO said...

Fascinating - I enjoyed the post and history lesson. I can't believe the old Iron. I've never seen one of those Iron's in actual use. Very interesting

Kate said...

I LOVE it when you post about interesting cultural tidbits like this! thanks!

Diane said...

I didn't have such an individual in my life, but oh would I have loved to! In our house, my sisters and I were the 'dhobins', I suppose! After I first married, I was so intent on being a good wife that I ironed even my husbands underwear! Of course, that didn't last long! Loved reading this post about your culture!

Many hugs...........


John Cowart said...

Hi Amrita,
Your post reminds me so much of how my grandmother boiled clothes to wash in a huge iron pot hung over a wood fire in her backyard. She used a long wooden club to beat the clothes and stir them in that vat. Also, she made her own lye soap--today, all that is a lost art.

Personally, I stick with wash & wear things.


Unknown said...

Some people in small villages in our country still use those old irons, Amrita. They are similar to the one Dani described earlier (with a rooster on the top).
In the city where I live, usually people use washing machines. But we can still find a few dhobis here, they are called 'pocokan'.

Hold my hand: a social worker's blog said...

Dear Amrita,
This is such an interesting post--like all of your post--full of information and neat pictures. I've never used any of those old irons, but I have seen a few as antiques. I iron my own clothes, and sometimes I have thought of how difficult it must be to keep an old iron at the right temperature, and keep the charcoal ashes from getting on your whites, etc.

Thanks Amrita for stopping by and commenting on my story. I am really enjoying that A-Z project :-)


Pearl said...

Fresh tomatoes! Like sunshine to this winter-saturated soul. It is April and yet we have the possibility of more snow tomorrow. Will this season never end?!

You have a lovely bag, Amrita. I thoroughly enjoyed this post!


Amrita said...

Hello Pearl, welcome to my blog. Thank you for your sweet comment. Please come over and take some tomatoes from me.

Anonymous said...

We never had anyone like your laundry man in the USA that I can remember. I do remember a person on our street who took in ironing for extra money. We called her "the ironing lady"

Good for Sheba the rat killer! :-)

monsoon dreams said...

Brings back childhood memories :-)
I'm back in LA.
How r u doing,dear?

Amrita said...

Hi MD, gla d to hear you are back home. Trust Mahima and mother are doing well.

Unknown said...

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Amit Kumar said...
This comment has been removed by the author. said...

I LOVE it when you post about interesting cultural tidbits like this! thanks!Clothes Irons