Gone are the days when washerwomen went to the Yamuna to wash clothes with family members and a donkey, though Kothi-kidhoban Rahiman was rumoured to visit the ghat with her fourth husband in the 1960’s, after being widowed thrice.
Now, the dhobi-dhoban press clothes in residential colonies and are known as "presswalas" – a term once used for journalists. Quite a few dhobans supplement their income by running chit funds. Take buxom Gulabdei, wearing a gaudy sari or stretch pants, standing under a shady tree, beside a rickety table, on which she irons clothes rinsed out of washing machines by harried housewives or livewire maids (kaamwalis).
It’s Gulabdei’s husband, sporting a fancy shirt over jeans, however, who does most of the ironing as she is busy collecting money for the chit fund. There’s always a crowd of women around her, either waiting to contribute to the funds or trying to strike a deal for out-of-turn maturity payment. Most kaamwalis (the butt of double entendre) don’t mind even if they get three-fourth of their deposit. This being a holiday season, they want to go to their "gaon".
The chit fund operator cuts and deducts at will unless the persuasive skill of the receiver clinches the deal in her favour. So don’t be surprised if Gulabdei puts on airs when one tries to hurry up for the clothes left for ironing in the morning. She is much in demand these days and prospering.
Meanwhile, the dog who used to go to the Yamuna with the washermen’s children sits in the corner, when not chasing his mate, grateful for the crumbs thrown at lunch time. It seems the adage, "Dhobi ka kutta na ghar ka na ghat ka (dhobi’s dog is neither good for guarding the house nor the river bank)" applies to him now more than ever before.