Of the many cultural differences between my upbringing and rural parts of the north of the country, the one that I am reminded of everyday is when I have to shower in the morning; to not repel the children from the school where I work. I am obliged to keep up with the form of the tradition, whose functionality is zilch!
Being born an brought up in a Catholic household in Mangalore, my ancestors perhaps hailed from Goa. The people who migrated from Goa to the southern extents of the Western Ghats were primarily farmers. They migrated to the south to escape the famine in Goa at the time. As they were skilled farmers, a Queen of Karnataka – Rani Chennamma, provided them the fertile lands on the western side of the Western Ghats to grow food for her kingdom in exchange for settlement. Farming was their main occupation and they worked in the fields during the day. After work, it made sense for them to wash all the dirt away, get rid of the body-pain by pouring cold water to dilate the blood vessels and warm water to relax the muscles. Feeling refreshed, they sat down for a family meal, which was the symbolic culmination of the day. This was the tradition that trickled down to me, and was followed even in my family.
Cut t o the fellowship, i am in rural Bihar. In this part of the country, people take a bath in the mornings, before starting out to work. I tried to probe into the origins of the custom, and I could find the tradition where it was required to be ‘pure’ internally and externally before offering prayers to a Gods in the morning. The apparently pragmatic modern defences for this were – “it makes you fresh for the entire day” and “to get rid of the sweat from the night”. Now, I fail to understand why is it more important to get rid of the sweat and dirt that is accumulated from the extremely stressful and strenuous activity of sleeping; that too indoors and perhaps with the fan or AC switched on.
Why is it more important than cleaning off the dirt piled up on the face, dust trapped in the hair from the traffic, the contact sweat of a hundred people using the public transit, the grime on your feet from walking on the streets, and the stench emanating from the armpits and privates. For most Indians with meagre and low incomes, 30 minutes from the moment they leave home to get out to work, they are almost as dirty that they could use a shower. Coming to the argument of feeling fresh, I think, a good 5-10 splashes of water on the face after brushing your teeth could do the trick.
Although, I do acknowledge that the morning shower has its advantages to get the creative juices flowing, for people with oily skin, and the joys of confirming to tradition etc. In addition to pointing out to the aforementioned flaw in logic – in a country like ours, where the supply of water is irregular, the morning shower poses a difficulty in sticking to schedule. Adding to the miseries would be – the shortage of time in the mornings in cases of over-sleeping, the rush to occupy the bathrooms in a shared boarding, overload of activities before schedule etc.
Contrast this with showering in the night. Firstly, it has the logical honesty. All the disadvantages from the previous paragraph cease to exist. Coming to the advantages, there is ample research that shows a warm water bath in the night aids in better sleep. It provides an opportunity to relax, reflect and to find solace from day’s activities, to savour the intimate moments of solitude, to feel refreshed and later sip on a glass of wine while listening to your favourite music, of having clean sheets to sleep on for the night and also of having clean bodies before a good night’s sex.
This entire argument is based on the constraint of having only one shower a day and ignoring the factors like – of returning from a morning exercise session, in which case – I would retract my argument for the greater good of mankind.
About the author: 2016 cohort fellow Alston, after his marine engineering found himself in Gopalgunj, in rural Bihar with Prayog, a non profit working to promote library education. Alston’s mentor was shocked when he learnt about his habit and nudged him for a change. He’s getting back at humankind with this post.