The Bare Necessities

Being in India has changed my perspective on what material things I need in order to live.

After the first six months traveling, I came back to Toronto with a medium sized backpack and a smaller knapsack. All my other belongings and furniture were in storage. I realized that if I returned to find that my storage unit had burned down in my absence, I really wouldn't have felt too bad. All I needed was in those two bags. Mind you, since then, I have traveled with two very large bags, having learned that, in India, it is not necessary to carry my bags myself from the time of landing till the time of departure some months later. For a few rupees, I can provide employment for a never-ending supply of boys jostling for the opportunity.

Kleenex (tissue) has become a lovely luxury. One of my winters in India I used neither Kleenex nor TP - just to see if I could. Partly a conservation thing - partly of a thrift thing. It is possible to buy toilet paper in India, but not the quilted, luxe varieties we get in Canada.

And then there are the squat toilets. In the best of situations, they are clean, porcelain fixtures. The only difference is that they are close to the floor and are meant to be perched on rather than sat on. In the worst of situations... well, some things are best left to the imagination! It can get a bit tricky on trains though, where trying to keep one's balance while performing the necessary can be challenging. While I can cope with whatever facilities are available to me when I have to, I confess that I prefer the western style.

One of my Indian friends who lives rather comfortably in India, found himself faced with sit-down toilets and TP when visiting relatives in a Toronto suburb. Instead, (at least he claims this is the story!) he chose to hike to the tall grass of a nearby hydro line, water bottle in hand to carry out his ablutions in a more familiar manner. Presumably he wasn't visiting in December!

One of the most rudimentary bathing arrangements I encountered was at the Kripalu ashram in Kayavarohan, Gujarat. In the same small cement-lined room as the squat toilet, a cold water faucet protruded from the wall at about knee height. Often a bucket is provided in this kind of situation. But with the absence of a bucket, using a kind of soaping up and splashing action, I managed to accomplish a pretty decent wash. Did I feel deprived? Not for a millisecond. I've never felt so free.

There's something about creating possibilities that is so satisfying. One year I treated myself to a first class train from Baroda, Gujarat to Varkala, Kerala. After 2 days on the train I was ready for a bath before reaching my destination. Bathroom facilities on trains, even first class trains, usually consist of a very small cubicle with barely enough space for a metal toilet, either sit-down or squat, and a tiny metal sink. And of course, one has to deal with the motion of the train. But somehow, with the use of a water bottle and a washcloth, I managed a full bath including washing my hair while hurtling down the line towards Varkala.

I admit that there are times in India when I long for a luxurious hot bath and even though the simplicity of that first year has given way to a more amply furnished existence, the principle proved itself to me. I now know I can live comfortably, and indeed well, with simple facilities and fewer possessions.

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