The Dharavi dhobighat (laundry tank) is one of those everyday miracles of a practical nature that India seems to excel in producing, and which are far less susceptible of explanation than any ropetrick. A small tank collecting water from the gutters running along the railway tracks provides a livelihood to a small community of Gujurati dhobiwalas (laundrymen), who wash the clothes, sheets and blankets of the local community. The water is black and filthy, often with garbage floating in it, the clothes are boiled in oildrums over fires stoked with rubber tyres and then beaten and scrubbed on dirty stones and laid out to dry on the railway tracks - and yet the end result is starched, clean clothes. And these clothes, which have all been washed together, must then be returned to their correct owners. Probably everyone has tried to decipher the little marks the dhobis make on your clothes; what is more remarkable is that even though your clothes accumulate a profusion of these marks, they never seem to get confused.

In the monsoon, of course, the whole procedure becomes even more complex and fraught. “Wait until it rains just after we’ve put the clothes out to dry on the tracks - then you’ll see us run!” In August 2000 it rained heavily nearly every day, and there was indeed a lot of running.

See more photographs at
or send an email to Robert Appleby.

Write a Letter to the Editor
Join our Mailing List
© The Digital Journalist