Really, I don't mean to complain ( all right I DO mean to complain, at least a little) but it is interesting how what we take for granted as routine, ordinary, unremarkable, commonplace and quotidian is anything but routine, ordinary, unremarkable, commonplace and quotidian here in India. I am referring to what we do everyday without any fuss or thought, something quite simple and unremarkable; taking a shower.
Now first off, the word shower is a bit of a misnomer. We do not actually take showers. There is a shower head,positioned conveniently at eye level so you have to stoop to get under it, and detachable in case you don't feel like doing that. But it is so rusted, occluded and sclerotic that it emits barely a dribble of intermittently spurting water as it wheezes asthmatically and complains that you are using it at all.
So, what we use is a bucket. One can dump this over one's self in one fell swoop or (as I opt for) use a large measuring cup with a convenient handle, and pour the water over various portions of your body.
Of course, the water is not hot. When I first arrived and it was still warm, this did not pose much problem. It was bracing and invigorating and I could even congratulate myself that I was beginning to get into the spirit of practicing austerities.
But it is not warm anymore in the morning. In fact it has reached the internationally agreed upon standard of whether the weather is cold or not; you can see your breathe! And at this temperature, pouring icy water over myself first thing in the morning is taking austerities to way too great of an extreme!
So the question arises, "How to get warm (or at least not frigid) water?" Well, one can adopt a number of methods. The most commonly used is to use the hot water heater in the second floor kitchen. This contraption called a "geyser" (pronounced m"geezer") is a boxy construction with various switches, dials, hoses and looks as if it came from a mad scientist's lab from a black and white, low (very low!) budget 50's sci-fi movie. It sometimes works. you flip various switches, the gas ignites and out spurts hot water. Sometimes. Then, I carry the bucket down the somewhat steep with no handrail stairs, hoping I don't fall.
If, for some reason the hot water heater isn't working, there is no need for despair. There are other options. One is the immersible hot water coil, a long piece of folded coiled metal that rather resembles an alien probe (It is NOT to be inserted into any orifice, this type of short cut is definitely contraindicated!) Of course use of this instrument is dependent on a supply of electricity, and that is dependent in getting up early enough before the regularly scheduled 6:00 AM power cut (after all, who needs electricity once the sun is barely discernible on the horizon!) After that, this method is not feasible.
That leaves the final option,using the gas range to heat up water. This is dependent on several factors. The gas is not centrally pumped INTO the range. It comes from a replaceable canister parked on the kitchen floor. If no gas, no hot water! Unfortunately you can only heat one pot up using this method.
Once you have hot water, other complications ensue. Usually, the water is too hot to use! ( I discovered this by scalding my foot!) So, the hot water must know by diluted with cold water to reach the requisite temperature. And as you ladle it over your lathered body, one must be judicious in using it, otherwise you will run out before you finished rinsing, leaving a nice residue of soap!
So you see, daily ablutions are not simple at all! But I will say this; when all the different variables conjoin felicitously, the sensation of warm water, cascading over your body is relaxing and soothing indeed! And actually, we volunteers are well off and spoiled compared to others. In our lane, every morning we see a sight that is repeated in 1,000s of lanes all over India, young men in the cold, outdoors, vigorously bathing (in shorts of course) using a hand water pump. They are trully practicing some austerity albeit out of necessity!


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