Sunday, March 23, 2008

Laundries, Laundromats and the Goan Dhobi

Laundries, Laundromats and the Goan Dhobi

By Cecil Pinto

Bumped into this visiting Economics professor, Rebecca O'Leary from Dublin,
last week and she had some interesting observations about Goa. Of course a
layman like me could not fully comprehend what she was saying. I can never
understand why academics have to couch their opinions in arcane riddles
instead of just calling a spade a spade. Anyway, here is the rough
transcript of our conversation. Maybe you can make more sense of it than I did.

"Cecil, have you noticed the inordinate number of laundries in Goa,
especially on the coastal belt."

"Not really Rebecca, I haven't. We have a few laundries in Panjim, but I
rarely visit them. We have a dhobi who collects our clothes from home, and
of course a washing machine."

"Aha! The Goan dhobi. Are you happy with his services?"

"Sure! He's cheap!"

"And is he hardworking"

"Yes he is!"

"Does he make a lot of money?"

"Don't think so, Rebecca. He comes around on a cycle. But then he seems to
be quite happy with his lot. Why do you ask?"

"Tell me Cecil, who patronises laundries?"

"Rich people with a lot of good clothes, I suppose."

"So if you were very rich person from Delhi or Mumbai and had a lot of rich
friends who had a lot of dirty clothes would you open a laundry in Goa?"

"Why should they come to Goa to get their clothes laundered? Can't they
just go to the local laundry there in their city?"

"But Cecil they holiday in Goa so often. Besides, coming to Goa is so much
more romantic than going to a hole in the wall in some dirty city to get
your laundry done."

"So Rebecca, you mean all these laundries being opened on the beach belt
are by rich people from out of state to cater to their friends' dirty clothes?"

"Yes and no. In some cases their friends don't really have that many dirty
clothes but just want a place to chill out. So they open a laundromat.
You know what a laundromat is?"

"Hey! I might not be an academic but I'm not totally dumb you know. I watch
American TV serials. Sure I know what a laundromat is. People come in to
wash their clothes themselves. There are these huge washing machines - and
everything provided"

"You're missing the point Cecil. A laundromat, as opposed to a laundry,
fulfills a social function. It's a meeting place, a place to chat and meet
friends. The washing of clothes is incidental. In fact most people bring in
clothes that do not need any washing. They just want to be where it's all
happening. And if the beach is close by so much the better."

"So the rich people from the cities opening laundromats in Goa don't really
have dirty clothes, but just want to provide a chill-out place for
themselves and their friends?"

"Aha! Now you're getting it Cecil"

"But isn't that a very expensive proposition. I mean why can't they just
meet at somebody's house?"

"That is so passé. See it should not appear that they're just partying all
the time. There should be the appearance of being engaged is some business
enterprise. Preferably something to do with art or culture or cuisine or

"A laundromat is culture?"

"You don't get it do you Cecil?"

"No, Rebecca, I don't."

"Imagine the boring stockbroker meeting the sole all-India distributor for
fire extinguisher spare parts and the guy who inherited his father's fabric
dye factory. All of them filthy rich, with not much to do but impress each
other with their lifestyle achievements. "My wife's adding an extra 's' to
her name", "Yawn.", "My son's gay and my mistress got caught shoplifting",
"Yawn", "Gave my Skoda to the Deputy CM's niece and bought a Mercedes",
"Yawn". "Opening a laundry in Goa next week". "Huh! Really? Cool? Can we
jam up there?" Instant popularity.

"So what of it? Let them pamper their egos. No harm done."

"Not in the short term. Actually locals benefit. The laundromat owner is
not really bothered about making money. He pays good wages to local
employees. He brings money into the economy. He spends lavishly to impress
his friends, who reciprocate by spending even more."

"So what is the danger then, Rebecca?"

"See the economics of it. If you invest money in a laundry and can keep
sinking money in it and run it at a loss for a long time, eventually it
takes on a dynamic of its own and becomes a profitable enterprise. Any
business is like a gambling card game. The punter who has unlimited money
to wager, and a bit of common sense, will come out the winner eventually if
he has staying power and does not get bored."

"So what can the Goan dhobi do to protect his livelihood?"

"Not much actually, other than working hard and being innovative. He can
just hope they get bored eventually and don't take him to the cleaners
before that!"

The humour column above appeared in Gomantak Times dated 10th November 2005.
Cecil Pinto can be contacted at

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