Monday, March 21, 2011

That Bath on the Road

I hadn’t bathed for three days. I was in Rajasthan, on a specialized ‘rural’ school trip. I was in grade eleven and was new to the school. I had joined late and my own section had already been on the tour, so I was with a bunch of absolute strangers from other sections, except for my math teacher of fifteen days, a sweet South Indian whose lips hid her teeth when she smiled.

I thought it was too much of effort to try and make friends for ten days. People were happy with their lives, they noticed you and you smiled and they smiled back. Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns had just been launched and despite the strict instructions on not carrying laptops, iPods, and books so as to ensure that the students were perceptive to the whole experience, I was carrying the new book, obviously. Its cover was particularly interesting, a woman walking on a sand dune on slightly high heels (how do you do that?), with pretty golden leaves framing the picture, if I remember it right.

So, we were in a weavers’ community and the school had struck an arrangement with them so that they taught us weaving, spoke to us about their lives and our lives, that kind of thing. Also, if you were a girl, they rendered you free matrimonial services and suggested you prospective grooms from their village.  So that’s how the days were spent, and we kept changing our base camps every three days or so, visiting new villages.

Getting to the point, there was less water and we had been advised against bathing. But this specific base camp had no taps or bathrooms, so you just could not bathe. The layers of sweat, sunscreen and sand that I had to scratch to reach my skin were making me sick. I couldn’t believe I was so dirty. Bathing at a villager’s house was not an option, because then the world would come to know about your irresponsible behavior. My eyes would constantly be looking for water, my head refusing to accept that the body it inhabited was my own.

On the third evening of this ordeal, my weaver- tutor told me that we, the university students, should visit the Block Development Officer and tell him to get the leakage in the water tank repaired without any further delay. I asked him to show the leakage to me. The water tank turned out to be this huge one, just ten minutes away from our base camp.

Next morning I got up an hour early, at four. It was okay to sneak out by yourself because there were no toilets, and people were supposed to do their business behind the sand dunes. You just had to ensure that somebody knew you had gone. So I stirred the math teacher and told her, got hold of my bodyshop paraphernalia, took out fresh clothes that smelled of the fabric softener at home, and left.

It wasn’t light. I reached the tank. The only sound I could hear was of the water gushing. I saw right and I saw left. There wasn’t a soul on the road, only a full moon in a sky which was bluer than black. There were sand dunes on both sides of the road. They glowed silver in the moonlight, their sand perfectly still, resting and preparing for another hot, windy day.

I was glad. I got out of those wretched clothes. I took a real bath.

By the time I came back, it was almost light. This hunk was brushing his teeth, the others were still asleep. When he saw me, water dripping from my hair, he stopped in mid action. He asked me how I managed that, pointing to my hair with his toothbrush. I told him.

The next morning, I got up late. We were supposed to go to a new village after breakfast. I was told that there was a long queue in front of the tank, so nobody except for the hunk and a few other guys ended up taking a real bath.

Also, I didn't need to go back to Mr. Hosseini’s book for the rest of the trip. The hunk and I struck quite a friendship.


  1. Lol.. pretty nicely iterated.. So is the water still gushing outta that tank.. or it has been repaired now :( :P