The Dhobi Ghat is a vast open air laundry covering acres and acres, nestled between modern office buildings and a train station. Dirty clothes and linens are collected from all over Mumbai (population 20 million), hand washed, ironed, and returned within a day or two. The workers , standing in water up to their knees, hand beat the laundry, use charcoal to fuel the iron, and live with their families in makeshift shacks above their stall. The dhobi profession, handed down from generation to generation, employs about 10,000 people who earn about 100 Indian rupees, about $2 a day.
Dabbawallas are Indian’s version of food delivery people. Dating to the 1890’s, the dabbawallas bring hot, home-cooked meals to office workers. The system, like the laundry, employs at least five people: the cook in some village outside the city, the person who collects the meals, stored in round tin pails called tiffens, the transit team, usually on the trains, and the delivery person who distributes the meals to the clients and returns the empty containers to the trainmen. Another person organizes the entire process. Various modes of transport could be used including feet, bikes, animal- drawn carts, and trains.
After two days in Mumbai, I spent two days in Delhi, one recovering from a stomach virus (Delhi Belly affectionately called by the locals, and then a day excursion to the Taj Mahal.
India whets the appetite. With 27 states each speaking its own language, 1,500 dialects, a population of 1.2 billion, and geography ranging from beaches to mountains, there’s much more to sample.
I hope to return.
For a poignant look into Mumbai life, see a new film Dhobi Ghat, produced by Kiran Rao.
(I took all photos.)