Story Collected by Sharanitha Sampath
There is a reason that we call water the elixir of life. It is the essential cog in the clockwork of our planet. It is why many of our major cities have been founded alongside rivers, lakes, or other bodies of water. Without this resource, we are rendered obsolete. It makes it all the more shocking when we see the amount of water that we waste and take for granted.
Growing up in India, a good supply of clean water was held in high reverence. It was common to wake up in the morning and realize that there would be nothing to wash your face with or brush your teeth with. The scarcity of this vital liquid shaped our cultural practices and has forced us to adapt in order survive on a finite resource.
One practice that was common in my family was the manner in which we took baths. We would have a large pot in which we would fill water up in. On days when we had to take baths, my mother would lug the pot into the kitchen and heat it up on the stove. Then, it would be carried into the bathroom, and you would take a mug to scoop out the water with and pour it over yourself. The left over water would then be used for other purposes such as watering plants.
After coming to America, my mother still had the behavior engrained in her, so she continued to take baths the same way. I, however, stopped doing it all together. It was not until one day, when an announcement went out that the water supply to our building would be cut off for a few days. It was in this moment that I was thankful for my experiences with water in India. My family filled up as many pots and buckets as we could with the tap water. We again had to resort to heating up the water over the stove in order to get it hot. The process of taking a bath this way allowed me to become hyperaware of how much water was actually necessary in order to function. Afterwards, I started to practice this method of taking a bath in the summer because there is a cooling sensation that comes along with it. After every scoop and pour of the mug, the water rapidly cools down the body which is a welcome feeling in during heat waves. Additionally, I stopped running the water while I brushed my teeth. These types of cultural practices give me a greater appreciation for our essential resources.
It is these kinds of cultural practices that go hand-in-hand with environmental conservation and sustainability. It is great to see others become more innovative in the ways that they try to lower their water usage, such as the incorporation of low flowing toilets in many buildings and households. Various communities have pushed for the watering of plants and yards to be carried out in the early morning hours, in order to reduce the amount of evaporation and increase efficiency. I also learned about the practice of xeriscaping through my research with the Heritage Garden. It is a form of landscaping with certain plants that allows for a reduction in water usage.
It is becoming more and more apparent across America that clean water is a limited resource, and this in turn needs to lead to responsible water consumption practices. I think it is necessary for a reverence towards water to take hold in more societies. Governments and communities have to push for control instead of over-indulgence. I now view the ability to take a shower everyday as a luxury. It reminds me that sometimes all you need to survive are the bare necessities.