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Documentary: Washing clothes in India

One thing immediately noticed when in India is, no matter how relatively poor the people are their clothes are clean and bright. Rarely do you see people wearing dirty or even unpressed clothes? How is this achieved in a country where the use of washing machines, though growing, is very rare? The answer, of course, is the same way it has been achieved for hundreds, if not thousands of years. The dobhi washerman is the man instrumental in the process of keeping India clean.

 Hundreds of thousands of these workers exist all over India hand washing clothes all day. It’s a grueling task in the hot sun, often up to their knees in water, these workers soap, scrub, soak, rinse, wring and dry, – and even press with coal-fired irons – the full range of clothes for every type of household or business. Even the higher priced hotels seem to use this services, as marks inside my collars seemed to show when they returned from the ‘hotel laundry’.

On top of the long and hard hours of work, there is the logistical nightmare of handling so many clothes from different origins at the same time – and ensuring they get back to the clients.

We visited one such washing area in Mumbai. The area is known as the Dhobi Ghats. Hundreds of stone cubicles, built by the British, are full of men beating the clothes clean. Human washing machines, cleaning up to 100,000 items of clothing every day.

A washing machine in the Dhobi Ghat

A washing machine in the Dhobi Ghat

There are said to be 5000 men occupied in this trade in Mumbai alone. And yet, even here, there is the odd industrial washing machine. With the ever increasing affluence of the Indian middle class, the use of washing machines is growing.

The decline of the Dhobi, and similar trades traditionally carried out by hand raises concerns for the working man in India. With the rush to modernism and the consequent loss of jobs, just where is India’s massive population going to work. There is a delicate balance to be made on this tightrope between modernising a society and the consequent job losses.

Travel: The Indian Sadhu.

A Sadhu is a Hindu holy man. Typically, as here, pictured in Mysore, dressed in saffron coloured robes they wander the country living on alms.

Having renounced the normal pleasures of life, or denying themselves material satisfaction, they follow a mendicant ascetic life  – tapasvee in Hindi – dedicated to spiritual goals.

There is a more radical sect of Sadhu, the Naga Sadhu, who wear no clothes, simply choosing to cover themselves with ash and beads. They rarely appear in public choosing special events like the Kumbh Mela to do so.



Abhishek Madhukar. Picture ©Sue Naylor 2017

Abhishek Madhukar, a photojournalist, and filmmaker based in Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh, covered the last Kumbh Mela and produced a video on the Naga Sadhus for the New York Times. You can see it here…




Travel: Hampi, Karnataka, India

What a place! If your ‘gob is not well and truly smacked‘ by this place then you have no soul.

The natural landscape is strewn with huge granite boulders, some piled precariously atop one another, some say, they have been there for thousands of millions of years, formed by the ancient tectonic plate movements of the earth’s crust. It’s certainly a landscape which dwarfs the visitor, not only in scale but in time.

It’s also been a natural quarry for the indigenous people for many centuries. Working with the hard crystalline granite – not an easy task I’m sure – artisans and artists first quarried the stone by splitting boulders – you can see evidence of this all around. Boulders with pockets chiseled in line litter the area. It’s said these pockets were filled with balsa wood which was soaked with water. The expansion of the wood split the stone. The boulders were then worked to produce exquisite objects, some huge in themselves, and elements for building construction.

There is much to see in Hampi but, for me, it’s the startling juxtaposition between the huge, natural landscape and that which ancient people constructed from it which captures me.hampi3hampi

Travel: Gandhi in the back of a truck.

McLeod Ganj, high above Dharamshala in the state of Himachal Pradesh, India is the home of the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of the Tibetan school of Buddhism.

His Holiness escaped across the Himalayas to this region of northern India following the failed  Tibetan uprising against the Chinese in 1959.

The Dalai Lama lives in a monastery in this small mountainside town on the edge of the ever present snow-capped foothills of the Himalayas which set an impressive backdrop.

Part of the ritual adopted by Tibetan Buddhists is to ‘circum- perambulate’ the temple on a daily basis. A path has been built on the vertiginous slopes around the temple to facilitate this activity. It’s no mean feat. The inclines are steep and at nearly 7000 feet above sea-level, the air is thin for people not used to this altitude.

His Holiness is in residence and is teaching so the town is bustling. McLeod Ganj normally attracts visitors from around the world, monks, mendicants and just the curious. But, when there is the opportunity to see His Holiness and hear him speak… you can imagine the activity level in the town increases.

Setting off from a favourite coffee shop (Moonpeak Coffee – with the best Cafe Latte she has ever tasted, claims my wife Sue Naylor) the town is busy. Surprisingly though the path is quiet. Perhaps everybody is in the temple listening to His Holiness.

Dotted along the path, seats are positioned on which to rest and over 200 prayer wheels of various sizes exist to spin your prayers to heaven. Prayers are carved in stone and left around the path. Small stone cairns have been built along the edges of the path, a physical testament to the passing of many thousands of feet and to the beliefs held by the pilgrims. The sun is warm A street dog lays sleeping on the path. His head coloured red for the Hindu festival of Holi.

You find yourself sharing the path with sacred cattle, street dogs, monks, beggars, and troupes of monkeys cross the path as well as other pilgrims making their slow way around the temple.

Oh yes… about Gandhi.



The Dali Lama and Gandi in the back of a truck at the start of the walk.


Documentary: Brick making in India.

Here in Europe, most bricks used for building are machine made with only special bricks being “hand thrown” – hand made.

If you are of a certain age you may remember LBC – London Brick Company – Flettons, or common bricks as they were called. Billions were made and laid after the war in housing projects all over the country.

The LBC common bricks were made in and around Bedford. As you drove down the M1  you could see dozens of chimneys in the brick yards churning out smoke making bricks from London clay. This clay had a carboniferous content so the cost of firing was less than conventional clay.

In India the process is somewhat different, using the “clamp” technique (which produces an intermittent type of kiln as opposed to continuous) to fire the hand thrown bricks. Labour intensive, hard work defines the process. The clay-rich soil is tempered by hand with water to make the mouldable clay which is then scooped up by hand and thrown into the metal moulds – hence hand thrown.



Tempering the dry clay-rich soil to make the casting clay. Picture: PDBarton





Hand throwing the tempered clay into the metal mould. Picture: Sue Naylor



Hand throwing the tempered clay. The bricks she has made can be seen behind her. Picture: Sue Naylor


The mould is then emptied and the brick is dusted with sand before being left to dry in the sun for up to 15 days. The unfired brick is turned every so often during that time to allow uniform drying so as not to make the bricks distort whilst firing. Once more hard, back-breaking, manual work.



The metal mould can be seen quite clearly here. Picture: Sue Naylor.



Building the oven with the bricks to be fired. Picture: PDBarton




Building in the wood used to fire the oven. Picture: Sue Naylor


Although there are some modern conventional brick ovens in India this “clamp” system is still widely used. The dried bricks actually make up the kiln itself. Wood is stacked in the bricks and the whole is covered with old bricks and a layer of earth before the fires are lit.

Once fired and cold, the bricks are removed and sorted.

Each person making bricks is expected to hand throw at least 1000 bricks a day. The pay for doing that is likely to be around 300 rupees a day – about £3.50 at today’s exchange rate – though the team work as a whole being paid around 2 rupees per brick for the whole process, end to end.

The dry weight of 1000 bricks is about 3.4 tons. When wet, they would be considerably heavier.

Pictures copyright Sue Naylor and PDBarton March 2017.