Sanjit Das, Mumbai
When you walk down the stairs into the Dhobi Ghat, you are hit by the smell of washing detergent and pungent chlorine, while the synchronized sound of thrashing flagstones punctuates the atmosphere.
This is the Dhobi Ghat, the world’s largest open-air laundromat, situated in India's financial capital, Mumbai.
Established by the British East Indian Company in 1890 - it originally served as a mass laundry for military uniforms, going on to serve British and Parsi households.
As time passed and India’s political landscape evolved, the Dhobi washermen’s clientele changed, with the Dhobi Ghat now primarily serving the city's hospitals, restaurants and garment factories. The Dhobi Ghat’s technologies have evolved over time too, with automatic washing machines now employed to deal with large orders in combination with the traditional hand washing techniques.
Still, some things never change, one such fact being that the Dhobis start work early each day. Very early. Each day, once the clothes are washed and dried, the Dhobis iron them ready to be packed and dispatched to different locations across the city.
In an economic landscape where Mumbai now ranks higher than Paris for ultra-rich homebuyers, the sprawling Dhobi Ghat has (so far), remarkably managed to stave off international property developers, maintaining its status as an integral, cultural and functional institution in the heart of the city.
The Dhobis are not the actual owners of their property in the Dhobi Ghat. The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) charges a rent of Rs. 293 ($4.6) a month - however it can only be rented to the Kanojia community, the community of Dhobis from Uttar Pradesh in North India. Though the workforce is still predominantly from the same community of Dhobi people, we are now seeing some workers from different castes and community groups working together at the ghat.
About Sanjit Das
Sanjit’s primary interest lies in documenting social issues as seen through the backdrop of an emerging economy’s changing social, economic and political landscape. Sanjit has spent a considerable amount of time recording India’s shift from a rural economy to one of the most rapidly industrializing nations in the world.
His work is focused on documenting the lives and conditions of those being overlooked by this sweeping modernization.
When not covering issues on the field, Sanjit lives in Kuala Lumpur.