Thursday, March 11, 2010

Take a wash on the wild sud... (SO sorry, Lou Reed)

Meera Syal poked fun at this very Indian habit in her book Anita and Me, but for the life of me I couldn’t understand why, when I read her book a few years ago. I’m talking about the way Indians do their washing up, under running water. I say Indian, but of course there’s every chance that folks from the rest of the Indian sub-continent have this habit as well.

It’s a very British thing (or is it generally a Western thing?) to stop up the sink, fill it with hot soapy water, dunk all the dirty cups/mugs/plates/whatever in and scrub them, then rinse them in the same water and leave ‘em out on the drainer, soapy suds and all, finally to wipe them dry.

But as someone who was born and brought up very very Indian, and South Indian Brahmin Iyer at that, I cannot - simply cannot - come to terms with that method of washing up. I have to wash my dishes under hot running water and, much more importantly, rinse every last sud to extinction.

Okay, hot running water is a luxury I’ve known only in the last decade or so. It certainly was not something I was ever used to in my former avatar as an Indian in Madras – well, perhaps other than when the water in the overhead tank got very, very hot in the summer sun. Hell, just getting running water was a luxury. But rinsing all the suds off, no matter how scarce the water, was always a must-do.

Anyway, in times of water shortage, we would scrub all the dirty vessels with a small wad of brown coconut fibre (the pointy end bit off a coconut, usually) dipped in a dish which contained the soggy slivers of washing soaps past all normal use. Once all the dishes were scrubbed, someone would pour water from a mug in a slow, thin stream while the washer-upper rinsed all the vessels clean. (A dirty hand or soapy utensil would NEVER be dipped in the clean water which had been caught and stored in covered buckets.) We had to be careful about conserving water then - none of this nonsense about leaving the tap running all the time, something I’m still instinctively loath to do in the UK. I also hate dripping taps – there’s nothing better calculated to rouse me from a deep sleep than the sound of water dripping from a slightly open tap.

And while we’re on the subject of water and washing up, I feel the same about baths vs showers. Although the idea of a bubble bath is nice (and I’ve had those – bubble baths, I mean - a few times), once the water cools, basically you end up sitting in a tubful of soapy dirty water, right? How anybody brings themselves to just towel off thereafter beats me. I just don’t feel clean until I’ve had a shower and rinsed off all the soapy water from my skin. So, every time I have a bath, I also have to have a shower afterwards. Doubly wasted water. Therefore, despite being a fairly newly minted British citizen, I've decided to go with the European flow, as it were, on this one. Showers yay, baths nay (or showers yea, baths nea – your choice. English is SUCH a strange language...)

What I was getting at, basically, with the whole non-rinsing of the suds from dishes and person alike, is – surely the chemicals in the soap can’t be good for you, whether internal (ingested from dry-but-residue-laden plates or mugs, etc) or external (left on your skin)?

(Yes, a case could be made for all lab-devised, man-made, chemical-laden soaps, shampoos, kitchen cleaning sprays etc being bad for living things, human and otherwise, but that’s a whole different issue not going to be touched upon in this post. That is to say, not any more than in this para.)

15 comments:

??! said...

You are not alone.

That said, the worst (to me) thing about the English and water? Having 'a wash' instead of a shower. Please - if you're going to clean, clean properly. Or just stay like that. But don't 'wash'. Brrrrrrrrrrrrr.

Shyam said...

??! - That, too. Oh yeah.

Anu said...

You are sooo right. I just can't understand how one gets out of a tubful of dirty water and is considered "bathed"!!

Your coconut fibre descriptions brought on a surge of memories of my Grandma's maid - she would use tamarind and old coffee grinds to bring a real shine on the pots (have learnt to say pots instead of vessels)! Once she was done one of us would have to rinse them all over again before they could be used as they were still considered "unclean" having coming straight from the maid's hands!

Shyam said...

My grandma used to do that too! I was going to mention tamarind, but brass pots (I've learnt to say pots too!) went out along with my grandma and I've never used them. Tamarind cleaned up brass really well!

Shruthi said...

Great, I can eat in your home with peace in my mind ;)

shyam said...

Shruthi: heh. I'll clean 'em with bleach if that makes you happy :D

Uma said...

This is a topic on which I have thought of quite often . We went camping at Windermere and at the site's common washing up area , i was shocked and amazed watching these queues of women just loading up the sink , scrubbing frenzily, and then apparently finishing up by calmly loading their pots(!) in the tub to take back.
After coming back home I googled up this strange type of pseudo-washing, and found that Americans dont do it this way,(since an American had posted on yahoo answers about it), apparently only Brits do it this way..Dont know about rest of the western world though...

I hope to God, that many Brits use a dishwasher so that atleast the pots are rinsed out automatically without their knowledge! And thank god, Restuarants have dishwashers !

30in2005 said...

On both counts, dishes and self, I agree. Soap and rinse in hot running water for dishes and hot till-lobster-like shower for me!

ummon said...

running water for dishes. and most definitely bucket/mug or shower. i love my bubble soaks, but have gotta finish with a shower. if not, yuck!

f said...

I couldn't agree more! Wash both dishes and self till no vestige of soap remains - I vote in favour.

Kamini said...

I once ate at the house of a somebody who had not rinsed her plates properly.....blech! The entire meal tasted of soap.
Agree with you completely on the bath vs shower thing. I love the bucket and mug getup when I'm in India.

Mobius Circle said...

Your post inspired me to write this one:

http://mobiustext.blogspot.com/2010/03/oil-boil-toil-and-trouble.html

Cheers!

Lekhni said...

But the British are the same people who once thought (a) bathing was bad for health and (b) if done at all, baths were to be had in the same dirty bathwater successively by all members of the family. All right, that was a few hundred years ago, but I suppose just one person soaking in a bath tub
counts as a remarkable improvement in mores? ;)

Like you, I am also paranoid about rinsing off each sud from the dishes. I also rinse all dishwashed dishes before using them to remove any residue (thereby negating all water savings from using the dishwasher, I suppose)..

Tamarind and coconut fibre is so much more eco friendly. I predict that one day we will have "premium" scotch brite made out of coconut fibre as the green alternative :)

s said...

totally hear u on the bath vs shower thing...
and yes I too need running water..cant think of anything being clean otherwise..

Anonymous said...

I'm a south indian madrasi living across the channel in Normandie.We wash like you ; but waste a hell of lot of potable water.My french in-laws scrub as you say, but then they rinse in clean running water before wiping dry.Most of the households here have dishwashers now.
Saving on hot water is eco friendly too.

Pardeshi