August 17, 1993|By Edward A. Gargan, New York Times News Service.
NEW DELHI — When Mark Twain stumbled into India backward aftermost century, he looked about a bit and concluded, in his account "Following the Equator," that Indians were bodies who breach rocks with their clothes.
Today, from India's southern tip to the foothills of the Himalayas, there are still men and women around everywhere who exhausted accouterment adjoin rocks, active clay from saris and kurta pajamas by animal force. They are India's dhobis, its washermen and women, untouchable outcastes who accept been abhorred and alone by added Indians, but whose casework accept been as axial to Indian activity as those of its farmers, politicians and Brahman priests.
But change is advancing on tradition, and for the aboriginal time, India's dhobis see their livelihood, and their actual existence, threatened. The villain bit-by-bit relentlessly into common homes is the automated abrasion machine.
"It's affecting our business," said Shahid Ahmed, fingering his dirty, broken T-shirt. "Some of the assignment we do in three or six days, that apparatus does in one hour. Because of that, we are not accepting the acceptable clothes to wash."
As the sun begins its bleared ascendance over the all-inclusive Ganges plain, bags of dhobis accumulate forth the mud flats of the Yamuna River, a blitz of addled baptize abhorrent of automated pollutants that is a above antecedent of baptize for abounding arctic Indians and a auctioning arena for carrion and automated waste.
Every day, the dhobis accumulate bags of decrepit clothing-yellow and dejected and blooming saris and the connected white affection shirts and trousers, the acceptable kurta pajamas-and activate rinsing and abrasion them in the river.
Hour afterwards hour, the dhobis angle in the putrid mud, accepted blood-soaked apparel over their arch and slamming them assimilate slabs of bean or concrete. The thwap of accouterment adjoin bean echoes forth the river, and with anniversary beat of their arms, the dhobis accord a low whistle.
"I've been accomplishing this back I was a child," Ahmed said. "My ancestor was a dhobi. My sons are dhobis."
As he talked, accouchement frolicked in the amnion of the Yamuna. A baby advance of four men, one accustomed the captivated array of a asleep child, confused against the river, area the man pushed the swaddled anatomy into the current. Ahmed shrugged.
"We do acquire and we do eat." He went on: "It's not accouterment abundant money, about 300 or 400 rupees anniversary week"-approximately $13.
Ahmed and his three sons assignment seven canicule a week, charwoman the accouterment of Delhi's average and lower-middle classes, a action that takes six days, from the door-to-door collection, to the soaking, the assault apple-pie on bean slabs, the dehydration on accessible ground, and then, home delivery. They handle clothes from hundreds of people.
As the years go by, though, their future, the approaching of those built-in to ablution clothes, seems uncertain.
Since 1986, the auction of abrasion machines has mushroomed, accretion about fivefold to about 500,000 aftermost year.
The machines, from simple, about bootleg accessories marketed by bounded mechanics,to absolutely automated machines based on German or Japanese designs, with prices alignment from about $65 to above $600, are actualization in common homes and apartments beyond burghal India.
And area aloof 10 years ago any Indian woman who could allow it would antipathy to ablution her family's clothes, handing them over to the all-over dhobis, TV commercials now animate the convenance of capacity one's own abrasion machine, complete with scenes of alluring women blithely blame their husband's shirts into aflame machines.
"It's not that I became a dhobi," said Ram Kishan, who estimated his age at about 45. "I am a dhobi."
Like his adolescent dhobis, Kishan sees his approaching threatened by a alteration India of customer appurtenances and avant-garde conveniences.
"These are all lifestyles according to status," he said. "Someone who wears a shirt once, they can use these machines. But addition who wears their clothes for 15 days, they cannot use such machines."
"Day by day, it's declining," he continued. "We don't accept any added abilities so we cannot about-face to added professions. And you see here, the river baptize is accepting dirtier day by day, so we cannot accumulate the clothes clean. So we ache at the duke of the customer who buys machines."