Free choice, not obligation – a visit to the car-washing street

Harish-Mukherjee-Road in Calcutta
Taxi on Harish Mukherjee Road Kolkata

Religiously cleaning the car each and every Saturday is both a ritual and a metaphor for Philistinity. What in former times was normally done in front of the private garage – a man, a sponge, a car – nowadays is mostly automated. The cleaning now is done with high pressure cleaners or the car is comfortably put into a car wash plant. In India the tradition of the holy trinity man-car-sponge lives on. Though institutionalised. Calcutta’s Harish-Mukherjee-Road is a street of car washers – an Indian style car wash plant. Early mornings the streets are framed in yellow. The line of taxis stretches to the horizon. On pumping wells men line up to fill their buckets. Others sedulously polish plate bodies and interior of the cars. The goings is best to be observed, before the heat of the day sets in. Before the fractious traffic starts, one can easily stroll on the middle of the road. From there the perspective on the many stately houses that border the street is much better. Unhurriedly, one can observe the city awake. Dogs are walked, and people are doing gymnastics or walk their rounds in the park. In front of the tea stands, men sit together in small groups, reading newspapers or gossiping. The smell of beedies is wafting above their heads. The Indian mini-cigarette – some tobacco rolled into a leaf – is considered an exquisite preparation of the bowels for their day’s first duty. Flower vendors find their customers in pious Hindus who are on their way for worshipping in one of the small shrines. And at the end of the scenic road, next to a Sikh-Temple, one can nicely reflect the impressions of this morning walk with a cup of tea in an earthen pot.

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