Feb 3, 2010 | India

Before I left Georgia I was asked how we kept our clothing clean.  As I began to explain the all-embracing process of beating the laundry, the person exclaimed, “You must write about this!”  Sooooo here goes.

Most laundry in India is done by “beating” the clothes on a rock or concrete surface.

A gaggle of women, laughing and talking against the steady drum-like sound of clothes being beat against stone will be the scene at almost every village watercourse, or well throughout India. After washing the clothing and saris they are spread for drying on nearby rocks and shrubbery.

This panorama of color is absolutely beautiful, BUT remember these rivers and streams have many other purposes. I have seen animals, litter and bush-toilets upstream. In the cities each housewife has her beating stone and bucket of water.

If this procedure is being enacted in a stream or river it is also a time for bathing.  I watched a woman wash herself and her sari with twists and turns inside the six yards of fabric without ever showing bare skin.

The commercial businessman for laundry is called a “Dhobi-wallah.”   He will collect laundry from hotels, some homes, dry cleaners (I use that term carefully), and then takes it
to—my term—Dhobiville. Loren’s shirts are laundered by this system then returned to the dry cleaners for pressing. Throughout Dhobiville the rhythm of the drum-like din again resounds.  Each beat here is accentuated with a grunt-ho, not unlike that of a Karate student. Grunt-ho-boom, grunt-ho-boom! Commercially, it is almost a completely male dominated profession.

At Prakash our clothes are also mostly “beat” on a tile floor. RGI has special beating stones for the girls in a washroom, and at PBI the boys use the concrete slabs surrounding the water taps. As Loren’s jeans are being washed you would think the building was falling down caused by the kabooming sounds of beating that echo down the verandas.

A couple of years back, I was told a washing machine had been purchased. Well I, silly me, thought it would be a REAL washing machine. Indeed, the very words “washing machine” are comically inappropriate for this pathetic piece of electrical equipment.  There are two very small compartments of about 12″ in diameter and 18″ deep.  One is bucket-filled with hot water after which it somewhat churns. Then, tediously the dripping clothes are lifted into the other compartment where the clothes are, to some extent, spun dry.  All the clothes are subsequently hung on a line at the top of the Prakash building. Within an hour, there is a fine layer of dust, churned up by lorries traveling the Ring road, on each piece of freshly washed clothing.  Still they are clean and smell wonderful by being dried in the sun.

I have to say that without dear sweet Mangala, the lady who does our laundry, I would be at a total loss as to how to maneuver as a “Dhobi-wallah.”

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