We’re in Cochin now, the weather has cleared and we’ve had a fun afternoon out in the town with a couple of friends. Before I reveal too much about the haul of treasures we brought back from the jewellery store, the shawl shop and so on, I thought I’d share what was probably the most interesting fifteen minutes of the afternoon.
We went to the Dhoby Ghat. The Community Laundry.
This is Dhoby Street. Pretty unpreposessing and much like many of the other streets in the area. In the steel workshop by the pale green wall, a man was welding some cupboards together – there are some finished products out there on the pavement. The red sign is for a ayurvedic medicine store and the bottles were all lined up on the shelf at the rear of the shop. But behind this row of shop fronts lies a similarly constructed shed where the laundry is being done.
This young man was ironing, looking out of the window over the pathway and was smiling broadly until I asked if I may take his photograph, when he stood still and serious! He was ironing with an electric iron with a huge soleplate, working his way through a whole heap of tablecloths and other flat linens. You can see his “done” pile there, all neatly folded.
On the other side of the ironing workshop was this small woman who didn’t have the luxury of an electric iron but who was using this one heated by a small burner inside it. She allowed me to pick it up and have a go – it weighed a ton and those small arms must be incredibly strong to be able to use it for any length of time.
The radio was on, tuned to an Indian pop station and the atmosphere was jolly if a little steamy!
All around were piles of clean washing, ready for ironing or for parcelling up for return to the owners. The site foreman introduced himself to us (in the hope of a tip, we think) and explained that all laundry is completed and returned within a day. Incredible.
Across the yard were about twenty of these washing rooms, each with a large sink, a stone for bashing the washing on and a tap with running water. Whilst we were there, no-one was working, though a couple of the men were just returning to work after a short break.
Out in the garden, adjacent to these ghats, several lines had been strung up and a few lonely shirts were hanging out there, drying.
These two jolly chaps were in another corner, folding sheets. I think these were the clean ones, being returned to their owners but as my doubt suggests, let’s simply say they had seen better days! The chap in the foreground, wearing a lunghi was rather proud of his moustache and twirled it especially for his photograph!
As we thanked everyone for allowing us the privilege of watching them work, we left some rupees behind in the donation box (rather than just giving it to the foreman!) and waved goodbye.
The next load of washing had just arrived.