In the centre of Downtown Mumbai, India, lies the Mahalaxmi Dhobi Ghats, the largest open air laundry in the world. Established in the 1890s, this is where a large proportion of the city's households and hotels laundry is washed, dried and ironed.
The Dhobi caste, regarding themselves as the highest in the scheduled castes, specialise in washing clothes, existing all over India they are an essential part of society. In Hindu teachings they are likened to the Guru, with their act of washing seen as a metaphor for the guru's cleansing of the minds of their disciples.
Dhobi wallahs live and work within the ghats, their families having done so for generations. Children are expected to carry on the profession, some being as young as 10 when they begin.
Their work day spans from 4:30am to 7:30 pm and they can process at least 200-300 garments within this time.
Clothes are divided according to colour and composition. They are labelled with numbers in order to specify their origin and are expected to be processed within the day, this can be very difficult in monsoon season, when drying has to take place inside the damp interiors of the huts surrounding the Ghats.
The ghats themselves are stone troughs with flogging stones positioned to one side. These are then filled with water and chemicals are added, before the clothes are submerged. Dobi wallahs immerse themselves too, in order to wash by hand.
This contact of the chemicals onto their skin can cause irritation, and washing themselves between each load is essential.
Chemicals are stored around the area, and the air is thick with their fumes, along with the smell of the waste water from the soiled clothes which runs into the surrounding open drains.
Dhobis work until they are physically unable to continue, women and men alike. Families live together so older generations are cared for by the network of people they have grown up around, forming a tight nit community.
An important part of the society of Mumbai, the Mahalaxmi Dhobi Ghats continue to thrive. Thousands of tourists visit every year, and it is considered an point of insight into the 'real' India, however, it continues to be the home of real people and is in dire need of regeneration, an aspect that many entities seem to ignore.