Water Privileges

I recently heard an interview where an American comic said he realized how lucky he was when his Indian friend told him that in India, your shower ends when your bucket of water runs out and not when you turn off the faucet.  It was unfathomable to him that anyone except you could decide the length of your shower. 

Growing up in India, water problems were a way of life. Water governed your quality of life in myriad ways. My home state of Kerala relies heavily on hydroelectric power, and delay in the annual monsoons would kickstart the dreaded power cuts. These power cuts, usually during peak time, would last from half an hour to an hour each morning and night. In a country where time is a fluid concept, power cuts are the epitome of punctuality. But these seasonal problems pale compared to the daily grind of the women in the scorched regions of Northern India. Carrying pots of water on their head and walking for miles in the scorching heat is part of their daily routine and a photo op for visitors.

A recent particularly severe water shortage in Chennai, India, saw people queuing up for hours in the scorching heat for a pitcher of water. A pitcher of water for the entire family! This scenario is degrading in many ways. It is deprivation not to have water to cook and drink. But it is an indignity not to be able to perform your daily ablutions. Add to this the ostracizing of these unwashed people for no fault of theirs. Worrying about having enough water for one’s basic needs is no less crippling than hunger or poverty. 

While the Indian city of Chennai reeled under its worst water crises in decades, with public offices and schools closed because they couldn’t have functional toilets, I, in New Jersey,  was complaining about the rain playing truant with my outdoor plans. Fountains were gushing, and the streams overflowed in the neighborhood parks. 

Long showers are a big part of American culture; not surprising that the US has one of the largest water footprints in the world. JFK showered four times a day, while Agassi did much of his tennis strategizing in the shower. The shower is almost a stand-alone character in Agassi’s memoir.  Interestingly the “showering American” stereotype seems as prevalent abroad as the obese American stereotype. A couple of years back, when I was traveling to Ireland, Dublin was experiencing a water shortage. My Air BnB hostess didn’t realize I lived in the US and went on a rant about her American guests. “How many times do they have to shower a day? For breakfast, lunch, and dinner?”

Not having to worry about water for our daily needs is a privilege. A privilege acquired by most just by being born in a particular part of the world. Those with abundant water are the real one-percenters in an unequal world. So the least we can do is be grateful for our daily “water” and use it sparingly.

Water is rightfully called blue gold. The world’s real blue bloods are those with blue gold gushing through their country’s veins. 

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