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
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.