If one searches for ‘Dhobi Ghat’, the results returned by Google are either the Aamir Khan movie or the obvious choice and much coveted dhobi ghat in Mumbai.
But to be fair, have you ever searched for one such dhobi ghat in any other city of this multifaceted country− well, we did and yes found one right in the heartbeat of Kolkata.
The Ballygunj Circular road leading to Ritchie road/Hajra is where, inside an insignificant lane, you will find South Dhobi-Khana− the dhobi Ghat of Kolkata. Upon entering the lane, you will find an old gate with a board reading ‘South DhobiKhana’.
And a walk down the rather dingy path will lead you to the 108 dedicated pens that are used by the dhobis, turn by turn, to wash clothes− and yes it looks exactly like the ones in Mumbai, well almost. It is quite difficult to discern the exact way to this place, perhaps it might be of help to ask your dhobi− all dhobis in and around Kolkata outsource their laundry to the 800 odd dhobis plying here round the clock.
Work starts as early as 4am in the morning and goes on until midnight- as long as there are clothes to wash.
The water required for washing tons of clothes is supplied from the legendary Tala Tank, and there is also a reservoir to store water in order to cope up in times of short supply of water from KMC.
The South Dhobi-khana was established by the British Government in 1902. Calcutta being the capital city of British India, the largest dhobi-khana of that time with 108 washing blocks was set up to serve the British Laundry needs.
And it is interesting to note that almost all of them working here are descendants of the dhobis during the British era.
The world has moved onto machines and what not, yet it is pleasantly surprising that our city of joy has preserved a colonial legacy that continues to be a laborious existence in the era of technologies.
Photographs taken by Woven In Light Photography