Saturday, July 7, 2001
T H I S  A B O V E  A L L

The importance of bathing
Khushwant Singh

AT different periods of history different people had different notions of the importance of bathing. Indians must be the only people who made a daily bath an essential religious ritual. After clearing one’s bowels the next thing one has to do is to take a bath. No bath, no breakfast. No bath, no entering a temple or a gurdwara. Sikh practice puts ishnaan (bath) on a par with prayer (naam) and charity (daan). Bathing in rivers, notably the Ganga, washes off sins. Likewise, Sikh ritual prescribes a bath in the sarovar (sacred tank) along a gurdwara as a spiritual cleanser. The most important sarovar is the one in middle of which stands Harmandir, the Golden Temple. The tank was dug by the fourth Guru Ramdas. The incantation which goes with the holy dip runs:

Guru Ramdas Sarovar nhaatey

Sab utrey paap kamaatey

(Bathe in the holy tank of Guru Ramdas and all sins you have committed will be washed away).

An astral encounter
June 30, 2001
Footloose with Ghalib
June 23, 2001
Sangam of religions
June 16, 2001
What makes a man great?
June 9, 2001
Malgudi no more
May 26, 2001
Call of the papeeha
May 19, 2001
Exporting erotica to France
May 12, 2001
Celebrating old age
May 5, 2001
Guru-chela parampara
April 28, 2001
What the world owes to Jainism
April 21, 2001
Exercising the mind with books
April 14, 2001
The great Maharaja of Punjab
April 7, 2001
Storm in a chat show
March 31, 2001
Paying the price for being upright?
March 24, 2001

I have accumulated a lot of sins but never yet washed them off in any sacred tank or holy river. I also discovered through experience that a hot bath during winter months often gave me a cold and I could clean myself just as well by rubbing my body with a damp towel. My college years in England changed my attitude towards bathing. Like other Indians, I believed that wallowing in a long bath tub in your own body’s dirt was unhealthy. After some months, I came to the conclusion that an English bath was far more cleansing than pouring water over oneself with a lota. So, during winter I bathed only twice a week. And was none the dirtier for it.

During my stint in Paris, I discovered that most French homes did not have a bathroom. Instead, they used a contraption called a bidet on which they sat astride as on a horse and turned on a tap which shot a shower of warm water into their bottoms and genitals. This, repeated after soaping their private parts, did quite a thorough job. The French sponged their armpits and liberally sprinkled them with talcum powder. A proper body wash was a weekend ritual performed in a public bath. Most Saturdays, girls from the office where I worked spent an hour or more in these public baths and were ready for a prolonged weekend with their boyfriends. When I rented a house in a suburb of Paris I had to have a bathroom installed.

Europeans have an interesting history of bathing. Long before they turned Christian, Scandinavians and Germans bathed naked in lakes and rivers during the summer months, and in public baths during the winter. With the advent of Christianity nakedness came to be associated with vulgarity, lascivious thoughts and, therefore, sinful. St Agnes (d. 1077) never took a bath; St Margaret never washed herself; Pope Clement IIIissued an edict forbidding bathing or even wetting one’s face on Sundays. Between the 16th and 18th centuries, the practice of bathing in rivers was frowned upon. In 1736 in Baden (Germany), the authorities issued a warning to students against "the vulgar, dangerous and shocking practice of bathing."

Slowly, very slowly, prejudice against nudity and bathing abated. Nudist clubs sprang up. Sun-bathing in the nude became fashionable. Today,at any seaside in Europe, Canada, Australia or New Zealand you will see men, women and children strolling along beaches as naked as on the day they were born. And bathing together in the nude does not shock anyone except those who still regard nudity as a sin. Having a bath everyday has become a common practice.

I am reminded of an exchange of words in the British House of Commons in the early years of World War II. A Labour Minister in charge of power was pleading that a lot of coal could be saved if it was not used to heat water for bathing and a bath a week was good enough. Winston Churchill stood up and remarked, "No wonder the Labour Party is in such bad odour."

Art of free-loading

At the Roli Books party to launch The Sikhs (Raghu Rai and myself) at Hotel Le Meridien presided over by Law Minister Arun Jaitley, to the best of my knowledge no more than 300 guests were expected. By the time I left there were over 500 guzzling away snacks and hard liquor. And a crowd of late-comers was streaming in. I did not recognise them and thought they had been invited by Parmod Kapur or the photographer Raghu Rai. Neither Parmod nor Raghu Rai recognised them and assumed they were my guests. Unlike official or embassy receptions, where guests are asked to produce invitation cards, there were no means of sifting genuine invitees from free-loaders. Delhi has plenty of them who go around from party to party and enjoy themselves at other people’s expense.

Some months ago, when Ajit Cour’s Academy of Fine Arts and Literature organised a conferemce of novelists and poets from neighbouring countries there was a lavish lunch laid out at the venue — India International Centre — for the delegates. On the second day, Ajit noticed a gentleman clad in dhoti-kurta helping himself to the bhojan. She approached him timidly and asked him politely if he was a delegate. He turned nasty, "What business is it of yours to ask me? I am a Hindi write." She got the manager to deal with him. The manager got the police. The free-loader was in highdudgeon and claimed he had been discriminated against because he was a Hindi writer. He had to cool his heels in a police station for a few hours — after he had finished his bhojan.

The poor fellow had not studied the art of free-loading. First you have to acquire self-confidence. Then the audacity to walk into the party exuding that self-confidence. Large weddings give you the best opportunities to try your newly acquired skill. If it is a Punjabi wedding, don a well-starched pink turban, join the bhangra and march into the bride’s house for a sumptuous meal. No one is likely to question your credentials. Cocktail parties need a little more finesse. It is advisable to wear a coat and tie and enter when the host is busy receiving other guests. Or carry a bouquet of flowers. Even safer is to get a nice-looking bimbo as your companion. No one dare question the credentials of a well-dressed gigolo accompanied by an attractive girl wearing roses. Instead of one, two of you can have your fill of Champagne and Caviare.

Law is my ass

I am totally corrupt, but I should have been more

Only then I will score

A resounding victory as she has won.

I should be arrogant and have contempt for law,

In fact, I should be law unto myself

Only then will come to me power and pelf,

Only then will the people fall over each other and vote enthusiastically,

Only then will I represent true democracy;

I should have been convicted in a few cases of fraud

Only then would the PM congratulate me from abroad.

Who is more moral than he?

Who is more respectable than Sonia Gandhi?

And once I am CM I shall wield such clout

That law shall be my ass, or else

I shall whip it and flout

And laugh at those who my eligibility doubt.

(Contributed by Kuldip Salil, Delhi)