Binod, like most of us, begins his day with a forced optimism that the pandemic will soon be over and life will go back to being normal. But over the past six months, ‘normal’ has changed its connotation and it is becoming increasingly difficult to put on even the fake smile Binod greets us with.
“When this all started, I thought that by July everything will settle down and it will be business as usual and by Diwali the dark phase will be totally over,” he says pressing the hot coal iron on a striped shirt lying on the wooden ironing board like a limp anesthetized patient hoping for another shot at life.
Binod’s situation is no better.
Sion, one of the prominent residential areas of the city, had around 10 ishtriwallahs within just a half-a kilometre radius. But today just three remain.
Binod Kumar Dhobiwala works in one of these. “Our Dhobi shop was started 50 years ago by our grandfather. This is the first time in 50 years, we had to shut down the shop for 4months straight, and we did not earn a single rupee”, says the 39- year-old, who has been working in the shop since his 20s.
Binod’s shop is just a 5ftx5ft space at the basement of a landlord building. He used to run the shop with his 2 brothers, uncle and cousin brother.
The 5ftx5ftis the space where they work, cook, eat and make a home in the city. Binod tells us that all the dhobi shops in the vicinity were family run for over three generations.
“But when the lockdown started, most of them packed their bags and left for their native places,” he says. Although he is optimistic of their return, he agrees that the business has hit an all-time low.
In the pre-Covid days, Binod would get around 200 clothes a day and would iron them for a price of just 5. Today, he barely receives 40 pieces of clothes a day. “After July, people started going out a bit and that got us some business. But it is still not enough to make ends meet,” he rues.
Today, in order to pay their rent and put some food on the plate, people are opting for alternative jobs. And it is no different with Binod’s family members either.
Although the local residents have offered monetary as well as moral help, his uncle and brother, Lalu Ram (45) and Subhas Chand (33), had to leave the family business and take up jobs at a sewing shop, while his cousin brother Kapoor Chand (32) is now driving rental cabs.
Binod makes it very clear that there was no help from the government. According to him, even his family at Allahabad didn't receive any sort of financial support during this period.
“Although now, most of the housing societies are allowing us inside the buildings to pick up and deliver the clothes, I have realised that until the schools reopen, the business will not pick up,” sighs Binod as he carefully runs the iron over the last fold of the shirt before gently putting it on top of a neat pile.
His eye briefly catches the news anchor screaming in mute from a tiny television kept on a wooden shelf next to his work station before muttering in a voice half muffled with tears: “Aap media wale hamari bhi kuch madat kar dijiye, hume bahut taklif ho rahi hai.
Name: Siddhesh Raghwendra
College: SIES College of Arts, Science and Commerce, Sion (West)
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