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With water shall we clean…

The bathroom is a place not too many people bother about. The assumption is that the commission of a necessity need not be attended with ceremony. Psychologists would have us believe that our consciousness with sin and dirt results in a certain tension that prevent us from bothering too much with bathroom issues. The theory further elaborates that such tension results in loss of speech, or indulgence in activities that give relief to tension – hence the tendency of many people to become bathroom singers or readers. Dylan Thomas famously said that novels should be serialized on toilet paper so that the toilet reader may acquire some literary credentials. The bathroom as a place where the eternal battle between dirt and cleanliness is fought, has always assumed a somewhat ambiguous position in our evolution.

While the necessity of cleanliness and hygiene was acknowledged, there was certain awkwardness in the development of sensible techniques. Behind this awkwardness, at least in the Christian world, there might be the religious ambivalence with dirt. Christianity has at times upheld dirt in appearance if it covered a pure soul. Most of the prophets were begrimed and dirty as the objects of persecution. The upholding of poverty further championed laxity with cleanliness that was the necessary accompaniment of poverty.

At the same time Christianity also said cleanliness is next to godliness, and inspired cleansing of society, from outside as well as inside. Lack of piped water, a cold temperature, a masochistic culture, distain of hygiene and other factors resulted in atrocious personal hygiene in earlier times. In Elizabethan England, nobles used to take a bath in dirty water once in a blue moon. To mask the stink many perfumes were used. Defecation and urination were done in pots which shared space with men throughout the night. Morning time ritual consisted of dumping of such pots out of the window, which resulted in the chivalrous custom of keeping women on the farther side from windows while taking a walk. The bidet was used for after-toilet ablution for a long time in Europe. The use of the toilet paper, especially in USA, resulted in a relapse of unhygienic ways, a custom that prevails to this day. In The Bathroom, Cornell Professor Alexander Kira sarcastically comments how men are “prepared to complain about a tomato sauce stain on a restaurant tablecloth whilst they luxuriate on a plush seat in their faecally-stained pants”. The use of water as a cleansing medium has no parallel, and since times ancient, water has been respected and revered as the agency of washing away dirt and sins – as much in Christianity, where baptism occurs with a dip, as in Hinduism where till today millions take holy dips in their numerous rivers.

Since bathroom is the place where one takes a bath, or bathes, it behooves that the primacy of cleansing should be reserved for water only. Today, we are blessed with the knowledge the lack of which meant death and disability to our ancestors. The discovery of pathogens and the microbial world has brought about a paradigm change in our conception of the causes and effects of unhygienic lifestyles. The toilet is the epicenter of a hygienic life where we dispense with everything that is not required by us. It behooves us as civilized men that we discard what is meant for discarding in a way that is conducive to a better life. This requires proper use of proper bathroom materials, something that is easily done. The next time we think of cleaning ourselves, we should remember that there is water. We should not hesitate from getting our hands wet. And get it dry once we are done.


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