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If These Clothes Could Talk

Posted on 4/25/2017 12:01:00 PM in Traveler Insights

All over the world, Jann has found that you can learn a lot from a clothesline—but this was especially true in South India.

By Jann Segal, 8-time traveler from Redondo Beach, CA

I am always fascinated by clotheslines when I travel. So intrigued in fact, that I wrote an article called “Clotheslines,” and as I perused my photos for trips I have taken around the world, I identified all the different types of clotheslines I had observed and what they were used for.

All of this was not for naught on my recent trip to Southern India with Overseas Adventure Travel. It turns out, my observation was hardly trivial. In some towns I visited on the tour, I literally viewed the entire town as a microcosm of my prior observation which took me around the world and six continents to witness. In Alleppey, a town off the Kerala backwaters and others we visited, I literally saw my observations all in one place, unlike other trips I have taken.

I saw families sharing clotheslines in rural communities; clotheslines near animals; clotheslines not in necessarily hygienic conditions. I could tell who was living with the families (children, the elderly) because of the clothes, and I saw them as a commercial endeavor as well, but in a different way than before. And with every clothesline I saw, I realized that my initial observation was correct—we can, in fact, learn more about people whose country we seek to explore, just by looking at their clotheslines.

The irons in Cochin are filled with hot sea shells.

The commercial endeavor that I saw in Cochin in the state of Kerala that was so new for me however, was seeing an entire field of clotheslines. The people wash the clothes by hand and let the wind dry them; they return the clothes to hotels and restaurants after drying them in the open field of clotheslines. They used an iron filled with hot sea shells to press the clothes. This was a livelihood for the people of Cochin, and it was available for tourists to see. Tuk tuk drivers who took tourists around the city had it on their list of places to visit. I even saw a large French tour group stop there, so these clotheslines were an additional source of tourist revenue as well—quite an eye opener given my penchant for clotheslines.

Another factor with clotheslines I had not considered before was seeing clothes on the lines drying in anticipation of wearing them for an upcoming holiday. I was in India during the Pongal Harvest Festival and many clothes were drying that were festival clothes. Colorful saris are not something you see in South Africa for instance, so the regional variations were as striking as the differences in clothing itself. But of course in places like South Africa or any of the African nations where tribal clothing might be worn, those too would be on the clotheslines. So clotheslines also tell the story of a people’s heritage and local customs and traditions, as well as the religious practices they observe.

A clothesline along the backwaters of Kerala.

I was in Cochin during their annual Binnale Art Festival. Art is literally all around, some produced by students as part of the festival, some by local artists just in honor of the festival. There are venues all over Cochin. My tuk tuk driver took me to most of them, one of which was inside a tree house. I climbed the ladder to get up into the tree house to see the art inside and what did I see? All the paintings were of clothes on clotheslines! I was astounded. The artist obviously saw what I did in the world—that by observing something as mundane as what is hanging on a clothesline, we can gain a richer cultural awareness of people then we would have ever imagined. The clothes are not just a marker for what we have experienced and seen, but a true remnant of the culture.

Keep your eyes peeled for clotheslines and the stories they tell when you join O.A.T.’s Soul of India: The Colorful South adventure.

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