In Hot Water

March 21, 2011

I grew up in Delhi and Chandigarh, where maximum temperatures in summer soared to 45 Celsius, and in winter the minimum dropped to 4. In summer, the water from the overhead tank was hot enough to poach an egg. In winter… well, it didn’t turn into ice, but it certainly felt like it.

We stayed in 60-year-old government houses, where hot water came from an antiquated storage water heater, otherwise known as a boiler or a geyser. In some houses, there was only a running hot water geyser, which meant that you turned the water on and it ran through the heater from one end and emerged hot-ish from the other end. For many years, we actually used the submersible heating rod – basically a metal coil which you stuck in a bucket of water and plugged in. I suppose the water should therefore have been electrified, but I never tested it by sticking my hand in it. It had been drilled in to us, even at a tender age, that it was a highly dangerous contraption and the most one should do around it was to turn on the switch, check that convection currents were generated in the water, indicating that it was heating up, and then, after ten minutes, turn off the switch.

In my family, I was the last to switch to hot water as winter set in, and the first to abandon it as the days warmed up. It always alarmed my father to know that I was persisting with cold water baths in what he considered unsuitable ambient temperature. I think, being the contrary child that I was, that that was partly why I enjoyed cold water baths so much – just because it alarmed him so much. I was quite proud of my “tolerance” to cold and quite disdainful of my mother, who continued to have a warm bath well into May. Nowadays, I think, she has a hot bath right through the year, even when the mercury does its utmost to explode the thermometer. Huh – parents! Oldies!

In the nasty way that life has of panning out, I’m now a parent myself. And, what’s so much more shocking, is that I have a warm bath for much of the year myself. Granted that Bangalore is not Chandigarh and hot here is something a good ten degrees lower than hot there; but by the same token, there’s no real winter here. Amit, who was brought up tough, used to have a cold bath right through the year even in Delhi. So it was only mildly shocking that he bathed in the stream on his last trek in Ladakh. To luxury-loving me, long inured to the joy of warm or even hot water baths, such a thing would be unthinkable!

So now that I’m a warm-water animal myself, of course I can’t imagine bathing my kids in cold water. What!? They’ll catch a chill, obviously. Besides, how can I subject them to water that I find too cold to subject myself to? To some extent, I do have common sense on my side. After all, we bathe them at 8 p.m. – not the best time to expose them to cold water. In beautiful Bangalore, by 8 p.m. these days, the temperature would most likely be around 20 C. Not cold, of course, but not that hot either.

But then – I must also plead guilty of being over-protective. After all, on weekends we bathe them late in the morning, sometimes as late as noon, or later. By that time, the water in the overhead tank has warmed up nicely. Why would anyone need to heat it further? And yet… I do. I do heat the water for myself, and for the kids as well. And what’s worse is, the kids don’t really mind. They like warm water. They giggle and squirm if it’s cold. They enjoy their bath either way. And I really shouldn’t be worrying about a bit of a cold or a bit of a chill. After all, I promised myself I’d be the kind of mother who encourages the kids to go out and play in the rain. And here I am, insisting on a hot bath at noon on a hot summer’s day.

Sigh. What a namby-pamby kind of mom I am. I was such a brat of a child. Where did it all go?

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