Singapore has a number of vanishing trades, one being the old Indian laundromats known as dhobies*.
The last traditional dhoby can be found in Bendemeer Estate just off St. George Road.
When we dropped by after lunch, Mr. Hari, the owner, was taking his afternoon rest. So when her husband is away, Devi becomes the “lady-boss”.
Devi is originally from Tiruchchirappalli (aka Trichy) as is her husband’s family though he is second generation Singaporean. She is also, now, a Singapore citizen. She has been in the laundry business since her marriage 27 years ago. They have two sons, one serving NS, one in poly.
P.Suppiah Laundry has been at St. George’s Road since the estate was built in the late 70s. The family has been in this business for over 45 years (previously at Somerset). It has passed down from father to son and, when the next generation is ready to take over, two grandsons are potentially in line… if they are willing!
The dhoby mostly handles large contracts: inside the shop was a pile of freshly cleaned workmen’s uniforms from one of the refineries. Out front, a table is piled high with dhotis (sarongs) from a Hindu temple.
Years ago, the laundry used to be dried in the sun in a nearby field. Passersby would see yards and yards of dhotis covering the grass. The field is still there, but these days the job is done with an industrial dryer.
So how long with this last dhoby carry on? Only time will tell.
*Dhoby is hindi for laundry and ghaut means “steps along the river” hence Dhoby Gaut was the place where the Indian dhobies, especially washerwomen, would wash clothes.