Of oil baths and afternoon siestas

Of oil baths and afternoon siestas

Lost in the humdrum of modern life, showering (or bathing as we call it in our country), is seen as no more than a chore today. Not very long ago it was a primal activity in any household. The bathroom was not just any other room, for it was referred to as ‘bathing house’ (‘snanada mane’ in Kannada). It was considered anathema to have the toilet anywhere near the bathroom, let alone be a part of it, very much unlike the ‘two in ones’ we find today. The logic was, a polluting activity and cleansing activity could not be performed in close proximity to one another!

Reliance on firewood for heating the water made the whole activity a painstakingly elaborate process. The logs had to be burnt in a kiln to heat the boiler, which was a large copper pot (‘hande’ in Kannada) securely embedded in a brick and mortar structure specially built for the purpose.

With the onset of summer it was time for ‘cold water’ baths. ‘Oil baths’ on the other hand were season agnostic for they were to be had throughout the year with unfailing regularity, more so on festival days like Deepawali. Elders in the household were never tired of extolling the therapeutic benefits of oil baths, citing them as the panacea for all bodily ills. The preparatory phase of an oil bath began by a generous application of castor oil to the hair and all over the body.  The benefits would multiply if one remained soaked this way for an extended period of time, or so we were told. After this it was ‘assisted bathing’ meaning mother would pour scorchingly hot water on the body, not heeding to our protests. Toilet soap was not be used that day. It was always ‘soapnut’ powder mixed with water and made into a paste to dissolve and wash away even the last traces of oil left on the body. The feeling after an oil bath was extremely relaxing and invariably went hand in hand with a sumptuous lunch followed by an afternoon siesta.

Mother blamed shoddy scouring for the light brown dirt patches that showed up on our young bodies from time to time. One of my neighbourhood boys, nick named Babu, had such a patch permanently on the front of his neck, obviously very noticeable. In mother’s view he had never paid attention to scrubbing his neck while showering. Within our house it was referred to as  ‘Babu jaaga’ (Babu’s area). When we were inside the bathroom showering, she would give us a shout asking us to scrub well, adding for good measure, “Don’t forget Babu jaaga!”.

With my children too I often make it a point to remind them of ‘Babu jaaga’ when they shower. I hope my children carry on the ‘tradition’.