Two items that are essential to most Indian households are a bucket and a pitcher. They are to Indians what showers are to Americans, an integral part of the daily ritual of bathing. In a country where you can’t count on running water, the vast majority of people bathe using a bucket of water, and a plastic pitcher to pour the water over your head and body.
Like every other Indian I know, I grew up with bucket bathing. But by the time I was 10, indoor showers had started to become more common in bathrooms as did a regular water supply, at least in urban India.
For my younger brother and me, showers were the cool, new way to bathe. It made time in the bathroom much more fun than the bucket bathing ways of the old India. Much to my mother’s annoyance, we stayed in the bathroom longer, wasting time and water, as she would put it. As a result, she spent her time yelling at whoever was in the bathroom to hurry up and get out.
When I moved to the United States in my twenties, I was glad to bid goodbye to bucket bathing. I was thrilled to have a hot and cold water supply any time of the day, any time of the year, with no fear of the water running out.
Long hot showers early in the morning quickly became a necessary ritual. Over the 11 years that I spent in the U.S., I conveniently forgot what bucket bathing was like. That is, until this summer, when I was forced to return to that old practice in order to survive the scorching heat of New Delhi.
You see, houses in New Delhi still don’t have a 24-hour water supply. The city supplies water once or twice a day, and homeowners store that water in an overhead tank.
Photo: An Indian youth rinses off soap suds during his bucket bath near the waters edge with background buildings of Mumbai. (Rob Elliott/AFP/Getty Images)