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Water: Learning to live without it

March 29, 2008 12:00 IST

Until quite recently most Europeans -- especially the French -- didn't see much sense in bathing. One supposes it was cold and inconvenient, and that someone had to have a good reason to establish dominance in the perfume market.

As a kid in Switzerland, I really dug the cold and inconvenient part of this argument. It got so bad that one day my sister began a tag game with me in which we took turns chasing each other through the house.

Besides the kitchen and the bedroom, she also made me chase her in and out of the bathtub around the shower curtain several times.

Then, having lulled me into a sense of security, she turned around while I was still in the tub and turned on the shower, trapping me into a bath against my will, violating my fundamental human rights.

By the time I'd recovered from her deviousness I was a teenager, and having fairly regular baths to the tune of once a day.

Those people, who believe that as Indians they have a national duty to bathe at least twice a day, will still think of me as an oinker; but it's really only on very cold winter mornings that I will swap a bath for an above-averagely conscientious wash of the face.

These days, however, we all have a good reason to skip a bath: there's no water in Delhi, and even less in Gurgaon.

They say it's because the canal to Gurgaon was breached by villagers desperate for water, and because neighbouring states aren't releasing Delhi's share of water, but that's just in the short term.

In the long run, it's probably all because of those two-time bathers who are constantly trying to wash impurities, like guilt about wasting water, off.

There are many things you can do to save water. Turn off the tap while brushing your teeth and while soaping dishes; wash your pollution-rich, nutrition-free vegetables in a pan of water rather than under a running tap; handwash your clothes or set the washing machine on economy; fix leaky taps promptly; give up drinking water and grow moisture-trapping cacti that you can suck on.

Only one of those is my own suggestion, and anyone who can spot it wins a private tanker at the regular rate rather than at the fleece-the-suckers rate that private tankers are charging.

But an effective water-saving measure is to give up bathing, because that really does use heaps of water. This is not great news, because the summer's coming and there's nothing like fourteen million sets of unwashed armpits to make you want to emigrate at once, even to France.

But we should all consider doing this as a service to the motherland, despite the heavy olfactory costs, because otherwise eventually even the privileged people are not going to have any water left to dilute their Scotch with, and then there will be serious riots.

If you need a bit of persuasion, you should know that bathing is downright dangerous. I discovered this through Wikipedia, which everyone knows is the source of all human knowledge, particularly this column.

Wikipedia lists no less than 12 deadly perils we face every time we strip off without a dirty thought.

Among these are drowning, heatstroke and hypothermia, ear infections, impact injuries "from landing inappropriately in a bath, from an elevation, or from collision with other bathers", infection, falling, fainting because of blood pressure changes, scalding, and if you're a baby, developing asthma.

In fact, it sounds as if we need a bath like we need a hole in that canal. Give it up. It's either that, or sucking on those cacti. You've been warned.

(mitali.saran@gmail.com)

Mitali Saran in New Delhi
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