Asia Features India Photo Essays

Five Star Laundry: From the Slums of Mumbai, India

India

By Miguel Baixauli

It was February the 22nd, earlier this year, when I landed in India again. Mumbai seemed to be a very cosmopolitan city compared to my previous experience of India – exactly eight years before – travelling solo around the northern regions.

The sun is already up as I approach the Chowpatty Beach, and I begin to recall so many forgotten senses.

It feels incredible to be back. Back in that light, that foggy atmosphere, that particular smell…
This long beach is a very popular spot for secret lovers, street vendors, or to simply relax…
Anything but swimming in its dense oily waters and visibly dirty shores.

I have a clear direction in mind: the Dobhi ghat. An open laundromat. The biggest outdoor laundry operation in the world.

Just like everywhere in India, there is an element of surprise with every step you take. This makes it somewhat difficult to make any progress, as you walk through narrow streets and tiny alleys. Although I might not be the only foreigner wandering these streets, the feeling of being observed is constantly present. The curiosity comes from other corners too. I can feel my shyness as I try to capture some of the wonderful scenes with my camera.

Inside a labyrinth of open doors, I walk through different stages of the laundrette. The muddy ground makes me slip as I try to stay upright. A large amount of concrete pens are lined up one after another and everything is alive now. The washers, the people in charge of washing the clothes walking almost naked around the area. Some of them heavily flogging the clothes or just hanging them to dry.

Others just take their time, pouring water on themselves.

The mixture of sensations I feel are sky high now. I continue exploring every hidden corner and I feel confident, carrying my camera at chest level and shooting constantly. I’ve left my previous shyness behind.

The impact of smells and colours hits straight into my cornea and directly through my lens to create a beautiful urban landscape. Dozens and dozens of garments are hanging from extensive ropes all around. Each one a different colour; the chromatic range is wide. This huge amount of laundry comes from the hotels and hospitals all around Mumbai. Bed sheets and nurse uniforms are washed here every day.

Needless to say, beauty can be found everywhere amidst the dirty clothes or flooding back streets. Not only in the colors of the hanging clothes, but in the multicoloured saris worn by the Indian woman, completing the scene. A ray of light finds its way through the wooden ceilings to illuminate
the charming face of an Indian woman in her pure red sari. A magical postcard perfect moment in an unexpected place.

As I retrace my steps back to the exit, the activity goes on. The biggest outdoor laundry in the world has delighted me with its spontaneous life.

I feel blessed and amazed by what I have witnessed.

Not only within the maze, but outside too the magic of India goes on. Young jugglers walk on a rope as resounding music explodes near your ears while attempting to get out of the crowd.

The day is coming to an end in the same place that it started. I watch the sunset back at Chowpatty beach and I smile.

I smile because I just realised, I’m back.

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