Who would have thought my visit to India would revolve around a bucket?
Most Americans think nothing of magically instantaneous hot showers and baths;
Flushing toilets on demand;
Washing machines with myriad settings for water temperatures and types of loads, cold to hot,
delicate to heavy duty;
And air conditioning to make the hot months comfortable, at least inside one’s home.
This all changed during my time in Delhi, where a large plastic bucket became the center of
Let me set the scene.
Within the flat, tucked into one corner, was a small bathroom.
It had a cold-water faucet and a drain area.
There was also a squat toilet which used to flush but no more--it was now dry.
And of no small importance was an evaporative cooler, nestled against a balcony window,
helping the fans in the flat mitigate the intense Delhi heat.
How did the bright pink bucket fit in with all this?
It, along with its satellite plastic mug, became my means to bathe, flush the toilet, wash clothes,
and provide water for the cooler to function.
Delightful “bucket baths,” to wash away the day, were had by heating the water-filled bucket
with an electric coil on a stick and repeatedly immersing the mug into the warm water
to use as a shower.
Flushing the toilet was accomplished by pouring water from the bucket or mug.
Washing clothes in the bucket was pretty much as one would imagine it to be. No pesky
machine settings to worry about, though!
Finally, frequently hauling bucketfuls of water from the bathroom to the cooler pan became my
“muscle definition” sessions.
All of this required a sizeable investment of time and energy.
It also gave way to not just an appreciation of the labor-saving devices to which I have access,
but also a profound respect for those who manage day in and day out without these devices.
And, not for the first time, I dwelled on how one’s birthplace determines so much.
And how so much is taken for granted by some.
Having said this, though, who’s to say the “Western” way is the best way?
Certainly there are critical advantages to the bucket approach.
Perhaps first and foremost is the energy savings, impacting the big picture of the non-renewable
fossil-fuel supply, and the little picture of one’s own pocketbook--not to mention its
beneficial impact on the environment and climate change.
Moreover, with drought conditions found around the world, water conservation has to be
considered a most vital human imperative.
And the sedentary lifestyle often associated with development is also linked with so many
debilitating and life-threatening chronic diseases.
All of these concerns are front and center on the world stage.
Needless to say, we all bring our own cultural lens to the table.
And there are tradeoffs with anything, costs and benefits.
Ideally, though, everyone should have a seat at the table,
Bringing with them an openness to ideas,
And an understanding that we are all in this together,
As our globalized lives march on.
Patricia M. Kewer is a Post Doctoral Associate in the Department of Geographical Sciences at the University of Maryland, College Park. She can be reached via email.