India, Indians and Water – the Strangely Fascinating Customs and Habits
Ahhhh water. Who’da guessed that there are so many different customs and habits surrounding water that I would encounter when I moved to Bangalore? Not me, I promise you that. From the cost of water, to dealing with the waterfall during monsoon, to how to drink water to new bathroom regimes – I was completely uneducated on the ways of water in India.
Generally speaking, westerners consume, use and waste a ton of water. Back in southern California, homes have swimming pools and automatic sprinkler systems that go off daily at 5:30 am to keep the lawns nice and green. I even remember as a kid that we would turn on the sprinklers just for fun and play in them on hot days just to cool off. Westerners also take insanely long showers because we have either massively huge or massively innovative water heaters so there is never ending hot water – unlike the small geysers in India that push out no more than five minutes of hot water.
Indians on the other hand are normally really great about conserving water. One small bucket can wash and rinse a car, opposed to the western style of using a hose to spray water for minutes on end. The same is true about the bucket shower system used by most Indians. I’ve had to use it in a pinch when the electricity has been off in our flat, boiling water on the gas stove, filling a bucket and using a handled pitcher to bathe. It’s actually not a bad system and definitely saves a ton of water. Although it definitely never offers up the same “ahhh, peace and serenity” experience of my normal shower because it is much more work and definitely not relaxing. But it does get the job done!
So imagine my surprise when I realised that Indians have a unique water wasting trait when they go to the loo that I’ve never seen before in any other country. At first I just assumed that it was happening because the toilet bowl hadn’t been flushed by the previous occupant when someone entered a stall. But then it happened in the stall I had just exited – which I knew had a clean, clear bowl. It was so strange, why did she flush it again? I had just flushed! Then after some time I realised… everyone did it, every time! Turns out that Indians are double flushers! Yep, a unique trait that I remember that funny little guy on the TV show Alley McBeal having because he said he “liked a fresh bowl” but that’s about it.
I first started noticing it at work while waiting in queue to use the loo. One girl is inside, she does her business, flushes and exits shortly thereafter. The next girl enters and immediately flushes the toilet. Then she ‘goes’, flushes and exits… and this system repeats itself with every single person. I noticed it at hotels and restaurants too. According to my driver Shiva, this will happen everywhere outside the home, in part, he says, out of a fear of contracting a “urinary disease” which I find quite odd. Especially since microbiologists proved decades ago that toilet seats are cleaner than kitchen counters, sponges and – often times – the refrigerator. I learned that back in the 80s and have never thought twice about using a toilet anywhere in the world aside from this one dodgy kebab place in Morocco but I’m not going to get into that! Anyway, I think double flushing is like horn honking here…everyone does it and it is hardwired into peoples’ DNA so there is no changing it.
Let’s move out of the public loos and into the kitchen. This is not an exciting tale but I’m still in a bit of awe and shock so here we go!
I will never forget the first time I saw a lovely Indian woman in a saree balancing a massive open-top, colourful hourglass shaped plastic water container on a cushion sat atop her head. For me it was a wonderful sight but I’m sure for her she would have told me to go take a hike if I even suggested something so stupid! It can’t be a fun part of her day. From what I understand, the water is either pumped from a public well, from a roaming water truck that passes neighbourhood by neighbourhood or, in some cases, bought from an entrepreneur who passes by with his trolley and sells water door to door – I know this because I hear one guy yelling “neeru” every day as he passes. Most of us are fortunate enough to have running water in our homes but in India the water isn’t always a really a safe bet for drinking so we opt for buying or filtering water.
Well, my daughter and I shifted flats a short time ago (that means we moved!) and I still haven’t purchased a water filtration system yet. I really need to get on that. So for the past couple of months we have been buying water bottles for all of our drinking and cooking water needs. I try to buy the 5 litre bottles but more often than not we ended up with 2-litre bottles of Kingfisher or Aquafina water. I’m not proud of the environmental damage I’ve contributed to but sadly it was often the easiest way to purchase water it in my neighbourhood. It drove Shiva a bit crazy too I’m betting because of the constant running out to a shop just for water.
But those days are all over because Shiva opened up my eyes to the beauty of the 25 litre big bottles. Apparently they are sold everywhere and I simply never noticed them or it didn’t register in my blonde brain that they were for consumer sale. All this time I had been spending either Rs. 16 ($0.29 / €0.24) for the 1 litre bottles or Rs. 29 ($0.52 / €0.43) for the 2 litre bottles and I have always thought that was an amazing deal. Back in Barcelona, a 5-litre bottle of water cost approximately Rs. 150 ($2.67 / €2.20) and a small half litre bottle costs anywhere between Rs. 27 – 135 ($0.49 – 2.43 / €0.40 – 2.00) depending on whether it’s purchased in a food shop or a vending machine at a metro station, etc. Retailers can charge whatever they wish because there isn’t fixed MRP there like there is here in India. Hell, I even remember some bars and clubs there charging Rs. 339-474 ($6-8.50 / €5-7) for them. It’s crazy.
So it turns out that for the amazing low price of just Rs. 45 ($0.81 / €0.65), we now have 25 litres of really delicious water at home. I honestly can’t believe it and can’t believe I was buying small bottles this whole time. I always knew that the bottled water companies in the US and Europe were charging insane amounts but I never realised just how insane until now. I still can’t believe that for only Rs. 150 refundable deposit and Rs. 150 for the dispenser we are all set. We chose the brand ALPDROP because Shiva suggested it and the taste is great. Shiva also explained the importance of only buying brands that are ISI certified like ALLDROP, which is a government control to guarantee quality. Although I was in a meeting at UB Group yesterday and the guys told me that Kingfisher water offers the same unit size and they deliver so I will be switching brands soon.
Now we just need for monsoon to kick in here in Bangalore and my strange fascination with water will be complete … and then I’ll probably start bitching and moaning about not being able to wear nice shoes and how every day is a bad hair day because it’s always frizzy – yay!
© 2012 Angela Carson, Angela’s Adventures in Bangalore