City Landmark – Subhan Factory Dry Cleaners, Old Delhi
Connecting present to past.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Although Old Delhi’s history stretches far back into 16th century, its oldest surviving laundry service is curiously recent. Founded in 1922, the Subhan Factory is surprisingly spacious in the congested Walled City. It takes its name from the founder who lies buried just outside the city walls.
Nowadays, Subhan Factory is better known as Model Dry Cleaners—the dry cleaning service was launched in 1960. “But of course we also continue to manually wash the clothes,” says Syed Intiqab Ali, grandson of the founder. No less than eight washer men are carefully processing the day’s laundry by hand in a plant just behind the shop. As late as 1970, this section of Old Delhi near Jama Masjid mosque had only two other dry cleaners, usually frequented when a sari or jacket needed attention. “But now we’ve at least 10 dry cleaners in the area,” shrugs Mr Ali.
While at Subhan, you can certainly ask Mr Ali to let you peek behind the counter to examine the beautifully-carved woodlined glass cupboards dating back to the founding year. Arrive in the morning and you may well also spot his uncle Muzaffar Ali lighting incense sticks. Then, climbing a ladder you can even pick up the shop’s copy of the holy Quran placed on the highest point of the shop.
At this moment the elderly gentleman has settled down to read a few verses as a customer pops around to pick up some freshly dry-cleaned clothes. They’re handed over to him in the shop’s paper bag depicting a Western-dressed woman wearing a hat—a costume rarely seen out there on the conservative Walled City streets.
Old Delhi’s oldest dry cleaner