KOCHI: Fort Kochi is home to people from different communities who speak various tongues. One such community is the Vannan community of Tamil Nadu who settled here 300 years ago. Tracing back their origin, it is believed that the Dutch army, with the permission of King of Kochi, brought the washermen community of Tamil Nadu and Malabar to Veli at Fort Kochi to wash their uniforms.
They were given a 13-acre land where each one of them was provided with individual ponds for washing. However, in 1972, when the Corporation wanted to build a stadium, a part of the land was taken away from them and in return, a shed with washing facility was built.
But, with the passage of time and modernisation, the community too saw a decline in the number of people showing interest in their centuries-old profession. Today, only 70 families work there with most of them between the age of 45 and 65.“There are people amongst us who go in search of white-collar jobs. That’s because most of them are not aware of the business opportunities in this field,” says Sathish S, former secretary of Vannar Sangham.
A software analyst by profession, Sathish used to work in dhobi khana during his free time and is now set to work towards improving the prospects of the trade. “The first step towards modernising the sector will be through launching an online application to pick up and deliver the clothes. It is likely to be launched next month,” he adds.
Heavy industrial washing machines, stain removing machines, boilers and steam pressers; a lot of machinery will be introduced soon at the khana. “We aim to make the members aware of the possibilities that can improve the functioning of the khana. We had submitted proposals for turning the khana into a modern laundrette but it is still in a planning stage,” he says.
Two years back, they had mooted a proposal before the Corporation to lay block tiles so that clothes are kept safe from the slimy surface. “The fund has been passed but the contractor has not started the work yet. We have been waiting for the past two years,” Sathish says.
The shed now has around 40 washing pens in which each one is assigned to a family and next to the shed is the drying yard. Though they follow the traditional washing techniques, there use washing machines and extractors during monsoon. Besides, the clothes are ironed with the charcoal irons to make it crisper. “People still prefer the traditional techniques we use here. There is no chemical intervention in our method. Many tourists come here to see the place as this is one of the oldest yet well-organised dhobi khana in the country” says Kannan, member of the community.
With the passage of time, the community too saw a decline in the number of people showing interest in their trade. Today, only 70 families work there.