My earliest memories of a bathroom, are of a first floor house, with a half terrace (that ran the length of the house), at one end of which was what would today be called a "bathroom complex", but was really just a bunch of Indian Style WC's and a bathing room. Much of a school day morning would be spent banging on bathroom doors, shouting at people to come out, while simultaneously enjoying a pleasant nippy morning on the cool terrace, admiring the just emerging mango blossoms, new roses flowering down in the garden, or even sometimes , admiringly watching the neighbor's tenant's daughter go off for badminton practice, shorts and all, accompanied by her Dad.
All of us children had to do Surya Namaskars (Sun Salutations), before we could have breakfast, and one didn't worship the Sun unclean; hence all the noise outside the bathrooms. Bathrooms in our time, and even today continue to be very simple and basic. One thing that people were earlier very particular about was the separation of Toilet and Bath. You never had a largish enclosure with a toilet , a bath area , and mirrors etc. It somehow took away the from the "pure" aspect of the bath, to have a gaping toilet next to it. The benefit of all this was, that we never had situations of one person locking up a bathroom with an entire family outside banging on the doors.
Pune, the place where I grew up, had fairly cold winters. Things like "central heating" etc didn't exist. Neither did running hot water although running cold water was plentiful. Most of our bathrooms then , held an ancient contraption, made out of copper , which was a rudimentary boiler, referred to as "bamb". It had a cylindrical body with a tap, around a central concentric cylindrical part, and a place at the bottom to put and burn hot coals in it. The entire thing stood on a tripod.
Before we children landed up for baths, someone would have got up, cleaned and started the water heating in this thing, charcoals glinting on a pan at the bottom, wisps of smoke emanating through the chimney-like central tube, and the water heating in the copper would give off a typical mild aroma. Soap was considered a special thing. Nobody really believed in it, but our bathroom always had bowl containing a paste of special turmeric (ambehalad), garbanzo flour (besan), and fresh cream. Cleaning your body and particularly your face, with this was highly approved, had depilatory uses, and you even felt great after you washed this off. Those scheduled to wash their hair had to wait, and do their stuff after we left for school, and that was done using a concoction of shikekai (soap nut powder)boiled in solution.
There would be a huge stone cube set into the bathroom floor of Shahbad stone, and one sat on this, and had a bath. There were no tubs, and showers were yet to appear on the scene. Then , like today, we filled a bucket with hot water from the "bamb", mixed cold water with it to our convenience, and had a great bath with a single bucket of water. Water was also important in the toilet set up; certainly for flushes, but more so, as toilet paper was frowned upon, and everyone washed clean with water from a tap , mug and bucket suitably placed. Of course the Indian style toilets , which are actually a healthier alternative, allowed this method in an easier manner.
No candles, no sprays, no choice of perfumes, but once the day's human cleaning was over, the bathroom would would have a wonderful smell, a mix up of charcoal, copper, turmeric, oil, shikekai, and of course sunlight soap, which would be premixed into a bucket of water where worn clothes would be immersed for the daily washing, done around mid morning, and hung out to dry on a clothesline on the terrace. Petticoats and sarees flying in the breeze merrily with assorted pajamas never bothered anyone, and if they did, then you looked down on those people as unnecessarily nouveau riche.
The ash generated from all that charcoal, was collected and used along with coconut fibres , for cleaning the daily cooking and eating utensils.
It has been an interesting life, seeing people of the old school (of bathrooms), adjust to what may be called International bathroom life. Elders from the family who travelled to the US to visit immediate family, abhorred the business of washing machines. You washed your clothes everyday, and while everyone else contributed to the twice a week laundry, grandmothers could be seen washing their clothes daily, and hanging them out to dry on the clotheslines, luckily available and "allowed" (that's a subject for a separate post, but i fail to see the connection between locality rules, prestige, decor, and clotheslines in the sun) , where they visited in California. When the elder son designed and had his house built many years ago, he had properly separated and segregated toilet and bath sections in his bathrooms, so his visiting folks would feel comfortable.
Tubs don't impress. The idea of washing and rinsing with the same water , doesn't hold, well, any water. And in a typical Indian family bathroom, rugs on the floor would be a complete disaster. The floor is much cooler, and easier to clean. Most normal middle class house will today have 1-1.5 bathrooms. The "bamb" has given way to the electric geyser. Children who swear by the lauryl sulfate in beauty soaps, designed to put a glow, get allergies if they use the garbanzo flour paste. Times change.
If you think about it, the attitude towards baths across the world is different. Bathing here, is a necessity, like brushing your teeth, washing your hands, and the attitude is all about getting on with it and finishing, so someone else can use the bathroom. I have seen my mother kind of speechlessly skeptical after seeing a bathroom with vases of flowers, photographs, paintings, a book and magazine rack beside the toilet, a radio playing music to clean yourself by.
But this often happens in societies where the bathroom has an owner attribute. It is possible to talk about 'my bathroom" and "her bathroom". We are still OK with "our bathroom".
While I have always wondered , historically, how bathrooms came into vogue, there is an interesting story about how and why, the British, who introduced the Railways in India, actually decided to introduce bathrooms in trains.
Okhil Chandra Sen wrote this letter to the Sahibganj divisional
railway office in 1909. It is on display at the Railway Museum in New Delhi . It was also reproduced under the caption "Travelers' Tales" in the Far Eastern Economic Review.
"I am arrive by passenger train Ahmedpur station and my belly is too
much swelling with jackfruit. I am therefore went to privy. Just I
doing the nuisance and that guard making whistle blow for train to go
off and I am running with 'lotah' in one hand and 'dhoti' in the next
when I am fall over and expose all my shocking to man and female women
on plateform. I am got leaved at Ahmedpur station.
This too much bad, if passenger go to make dung that damn guard not
wait train five minutes for him. I am therefore pray your honour to
make big fine on that guard for public sake. Otherwise I am making big
report to papers."
This graphic report has historical value.
It led to the introduction of toilets on Indian trains.