“The water in the shower is not hot enough,” my husband said as he stepped out of the bathroom.
I had just doused my hair with oil, using a blend of Jojoba and Kesavardhini oils, a concoction that my friends at our Homec renunion had sworn by. Try it. The whole apartment was now infected with the fragrance of oily musk. Not taking a shower was not an option. I am sure it will be warm enough, if not hot enough.
Shivering, I called the concierge of our apartment building.
“Good morning. Did you get in OK today?” New York was buried in two feet of snow, the first blizzard of the season.
“Yes, I did, thank you. I live just two blocks away.”
“Can you please tell Tony that we have no hot water in our shower.” Tony is the superintendent of our apartment building.
Holding my hot cup of coffee, my hands cupped around it, I sat by the window, watched the snow falling over the white rooftops, and mused.
What a spoiled lady I had turned into!
When I was growing up in Pakistan in the 1950s, we had no hot water in the shower, or in the sink for that matter. It was cold water in winter, and warm water in summer—in the taps, that is. It was cold water for washing dishes, and it was cold water for the laundry. Those who read my blog on ‘My Downton Abbey in Pakistan’ should know that this Mary Crawley never had the luxury of a hot bath. So how did we manage a shower in the winters? There was a whole process to it—picture this:
The cook would put up a kettle of water, and once it boiled, would send it up to the bathroom. In the shower stall, I would pour the hot water into a bucket placed under the faucet, and run the cold water into it, mixing it until it reached the desired warmth. With a plastic mug, I would pour the water, lather, and rinse, making sure I didn’t run out of water. I would savor the very last mugful of warm water, with an Aaah. Environmentalist, didn’t that just make a whole lot of sense?
That process worked fine until I left home to go to the College of Home Economics and live in the hostel. No private kitchen. Now what? Every Sunday, we girls would line up in the kitchen holding our plastic buckets, and beg the cook, whom we called Khansama Jee, to give us some hot water. Round-faced, round-bodied, and balding, he would oblige. We would then lug our bucket to the bathroom. I say ‘we’ because it took two to carry a bucketful. Bathing in winters was limited to Sundays only—there was no time for the luxury of a hot bucket bath on a weekday morning. Now there was no way Khansama Jee could accommodate a couple of hundred ladies, so we developed our private hot water system. Saving a few rupees, roommates would invest in an electric immersion heater. It was a curly-rod that you placed in the bucket of water, and then waited for it to heat up. One time a friend of mine ran out of water while she was still lathered in soap. I heard her calling for help. We had to rush over to the kitchen, plead our way up the line, get a mugful of hot water, rush back—careful not to spill hot water on our toes, while she waited, shivering away.
Now picture this: Lady Mary comes to New York.
It is December 1971, I am a newly wed, fresh off the plane, and it’s my first evening in our apartment with my husband. He tells me to take it easy—he will do the dishes.
“Let me heat some water for you,” I offer, picking up the teakettle.
“For tea?” he asks.
“To wash the dishes.” My plan was to pour the warm water over the dishes as he washed them.
You can picture the rest. I watched in awe as he showed me that the left faucet is for hot water, the right for cold, and here is how you mix it. Even then, I couldn’t comprehend that the shower too would have hot water. Don’t ask me why. But imagine my glee when it hit me that now I could take a shower every morning. What luxury!
Of course, over time my parents in Pakistan installed a hot water boiler for the bathrooms, but even today, only a few can afford hot running water. There is no central heating in homes, and with a shortage of natural gas, winters are harsh as people try to keep warm by bundling up in layers. Everyone gathers in the one heated room. Bathrooms are freezing cold and the bucket bath has to be a very quick bath. Everyone is relieved when winter is over.
And here I was, savoring the sights of the blizzard 2016 from my cozy apartment, wearing a light sweater, and fussing over ‘no hot water in the shower’.
The phone rang. It was Tony. “Water problem is fixed.”