For the year that I lived without a shower or hot water in India, I learned to appreciate the bucket bath. Heating the water first until it steamed, I then mixed it with cupfuls of cool water until it reached a pleasant temperature. As I shampooed my hair or scrubbed my toes, plunging the cup into the bucket and rinsing myself afterwards, I felt as serene as a Zen master performing a ritual: watching the water patter down, the soap suds swirling like clouds around the drain.
It was a ten-liter bucket, but I rarely used all the water for one bath. Usually about a quarter of the water was left at the end, which I used throughout the rest of the day, since there was no sink in the bathroom. That by itself was not new to me, since the unrenovated apartment in Brooklyn I had left behind to move to Bangalore didn’t have a bathroom sink either. In New York, I had thought of myself as a fairly conscious person when it came to my lifestyle: I didn’t own a car, I recycled assiduously, I turned out lights other people left on. But living in India showed me just how resource-intensive the American way of life really was. I had never taken long showers back home, but I was fairly sure that even my ten-minute wash-ups in the morning consumed far more than just 10 liters of water.
Those quick showers also mirrored the steady stream of my thoughts in those days: a rain of errands to run, people to meet and goals to accomplish, all pouring onto my head as I attempted to multitask and brush my teeth or listen to the radio at the same time. It was a never-ending to-do list, in part because I rarely gave any one thing my full attention. Even as much as I loved expensive, aromatic soaps and bath oils, I seldom savored them in the shower: my mind was somewhere else.
I never stopped to enjoy the everyday experience of taking a bath until I had to use a bucket.
Without a shower head, with a limited supply of water, I had to be very conscious of how I would get clean. I had to take my time, and pay attention. I was glad I became more aware of water as a resource, but I was even more glad to become aware of the stream of life in that moment, and to have a glimpse of time like soap suds swirling away.
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