When my siblings and I were little, we would bathe together, each having our bucket with a mix of hot and cold water. We would play while we bathed, splashing water on one another while our mother tried to get us to soap ourselves and do what a bath is meant to do – clean us! The best part was at the end where, if we could, we would with bent knees sit in the bucket and laze.
My two siblings quickly outgrew their bucket and our common bathing too ended soon enough. As the youngest, I was the last to outgrow sitting in the bucket, and the day that I found it difficult to fit into it, was a day I felt something was changing irrevocably and not necessarily for the better.
So, since childhood, a bath with a bucket of water was the way I bathed. The buckets were gleaming brass ones later alas to be replaced by plastic.
A neighbor had a shower head installed in their bathroom and soon we too got one. I liked the novelty of the shower but quickly found that I did not like water getting into my ears and as the water from the shower was unheated it was only fun for me in the hot summer months. Anyway, I never took to a shower and remained faithful to having a bath from a bucket and do so till this day.
Before we got what we called a geezer installed from which a trickle of hot water poured into a bucket, my mother heated water in a bamba. The bamba required coal to heat the water, so we were prodded by our mother to have our baths in rapid succession to limit the amount of coal used, presumably to reduce the cost. About a third of the bucket was filled with very hot water and then one added as much cold water as one liked and used a lota to pour water over oneself. One sat squatting on the bathroom floor, something I miss now as the aging knees no longer allow it! For some, a small wooden patla (a very low seat) was provided.
I was so comfortable with this way of bathing that one of the first things I bought coming to Chicago in 1972 was a bucket! When I moved from place to place, I quickly discovered that buckets did not travel well so while doing assignments as a locum tenens for nearly a decade, I found that adding a plastic basin to the cartons I would ship ahead to my temporary residence was a practical alternative as the amount of water it would hold was close enough to my usual bucket (10 quarts).
When I lived in Oak Park ( the first western suburb of Chicago), I had a large apartment but only one bathroom. I don’t know why but I felt that the bucket should be hidden especially when non-Indian guests came for a meal. I first hid it in the cabinet below the washbasin but it took too long to arrange the space to fit the bucket in and then rearrange it. I quickly realized that pulling the shower curtain hid the bucket and took no time at all.
Then one day I hosted Violet Cherry, an anti-apartheid activist, for a few days. By her name, I expected a white South African woman. Imagine my surprise when a lady, with a big smile, wearing a beautiful red and black silk sari, came to me and said, “Are you Bindu?”. Violet was vivacious with a wonderful history to relate. Her full name was Violet Padayachi Cherry, Padayachi being a surname from a ‘backward’ caste in today’s Tamil Nadu. Many of the Indian migrants to South Africa were from this region, brought to that land as indentured laborers. They were at the forefront of the campaigns Gandhi led against the discriminatory policies of the South African government. Violet’s grandfather was one of them and there is a photo of him as part of the Ambulance Corps Gandhi organized during the Boer War.
Well, how does Violet connect with the bucket story? The next day I was to drive Violet to a meeting where she was to address and educate people about the situation in South Africa and garner support for the anti-apartheid movement. I had had my bath and had forgotten about the bucket in the tub. Violet then went to take her bath and I could hear sounds of water splashing. After what seemed like a longish time, Violet emerged from the bath all smiles, and remarked, “Bindu, what an excellent idea you have had to keep a bucket in the tub! I wonder why I never thought of it. I had such a lovely time splashing myself and bathing in the manner of my childhood! Brought back all sorts of memories!”
From that day on, the bucket was never hidden, Violet had liberated it! In today’s drought-stricken California, I now measure one bucket full of water suited to a temperature I like and restrict myself to this. In the past, I would use several bucketfuls. If a full bucket of water was enough for the decades I was growing up in India, I could do the same here. I am glad to report that after a few days, I was quite happy with my single bucket bath. I can save the environment one bucket bath at a time!
Bindu Desai is a retired neurologist who, in non-COVID times, spends four months a year in Mumbai.