“Back then in late 1940s, we used to get the clothes of British officials, Nawabs and princes with not an iota of dirt on them, and I would look at them admiringly, wondering if they really needed to be washed or dry cleaned,” says 67-year-old Doulat Ram T Keswani, a veteran dry cleaner and owner of Excello Dry Cleaners, reminiscing days when he began his career as a helper to his uncle.

Originally from Hyderabad, Pakistan, Mr. Keswani's family migrated to Chennai during partition, and settled in the city. “I stuck to this business all these years because I love the magic I bring to old clothes, making them all new. I make people fall in love with their clothes all over again,” says the enthusiastic dry cleaner, showing the correct way to fold clothes so that the lines don't stay.

Daily wear, carpets, curtains, sofa upholstery, convocation robes, ‘jamakalam,' quilts, apart from silk saris and branded shirts – name any kind of fabric and these consummate professionals have a solution for every stain or blemish. What for most of us is mere washing is for them, a series of intricate nuances. “The cleaner has to be aware about the fabric. He cannot wash the blazers because it will ruin the lining, or dry clean cotton clothes,” says Mr. Keswani.

The key to this business is responsibility. “Heavy brocaded saris with sequins and stones studded on them are sentimental wealth – we are a mini bank ourselves,” says Anee Peters of Dream Cleaners, Kotturpuram. And when mistakes happen, they make sure the situation doesn't worsen. “Once, a customer's blazer was delivered to the wrong person and it never came back. I took him to Louis Phillipe and got him a new one,” says Mr. Keswani.

“Many customers often entrust their entire suitcases to us, or send us their expensive clothes through their relatives even when they have move out side the city. This shows how much they trust us,” says Romola Missier of Clean Living, T. Nagar.

“The biggest problem here is quality of water,” complains S. Sharadha of Speed Queen Dry Cleaners, Adyar. “We use treated water. If the colour runs, I am forced to tell my customer that not much can be done,” she adds.

Dettol wash, starch addition, whitening – Ms.Sharadha does it all even as she gets frequent reminders of her importance when female customers narrate how and where a particular gifted sari got stained. “They think I can remove any stain, and I do it most times,” she smiles.

Gesturing towards the eight-tonne boiler at the entrance of his factory in Mylapore that powers the cauldrons, dry cleaning, pressing and washing machines inside, Mr. Keswani says, “We literally sweat to earn.” Further away, steam presses efficiently presses blazers, shirts and saris wiping out wrinkles and creases.

Mr. Keswani is quite unhappy with the way dry cleaning is done in the city. “There is hardly any petrol wash, it is just water wash. The dirt from the cloth has to come out, and I have to see it.”

Ms. Missier specialises in spotless garments too. “No one can beat us when it comes to whites. We get clothes from many politicians,” she grins, adding, I have mothers who bring their wedding gowns and insist on making them look new for their daughters. Later, the moment of pride is when at the wedding, they point to the dress and say, ‘Look how rich your finish is.'”

“Children's uniforms are the most fun. Their sizes keep increasing every year, showing how fast they grow. And every family has a child with the most muddiest of pants,” says Ms. Peters, moving the press lightly over the joints of a pattu sari that she calls the sign of a pure brocade. “Once you get used to dry cleaning it becomes part of your lifestyle. If not for us, stains would have lived forever.”

Keywords: dry cleaning

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Vasudha VenugopalJune 28, 2012

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