Water Worries

How common sense is left behind in the modern way of living

Written by Rama Bijapurkar | New Delhi | Published: July 13, 2012 3:55 am

How common sense is left behind in the modern way of living

It was blazing hot,relentlessly scorching as only a north Indian summer can be. After a long inter-state drive,when even the air conditioner of the car offered little reprieve,I gratefully checked into a five-star hotel in one of the richest cities in north India. The room had three small bottles of water. Two of them I drank at one go. The third I kept aside and an hour later I drank that too. I called housekeeping,now stylishly rebranded 24/7,and asked for some more water. They sent me three bottles and a bill for it.

I wondered which country the hotel thought it was in,even as it called me its “guest” and electronically tried to impress me with all its personalised,“you are important to us” customer relationship mailers. Maybe they had hired a consultant who imported the “best practices” from a more developed western country with kinder temperatures,better roads,and cars with air conditioners that were capable of working harder. I called the duty manager and asked him what he offered guests when they came to his home in this heat. He promptly said,“I ask if they want water”,then he thought a bit and said,“we just bring the water without asking.” We then agreed that even in a lowly Udupi hotel,they first bring filtered drinking water,even if it is in glasses with all their fingers in it — though mostly they too have gone up the value chain in recent years. And here was a posh hotel charging thousands of rupees a night — run by Indians,in “Atithi Devo Bhava” India,advertising their tradition of hospitality and their deep roots in India,where serving (free) water to the thirsty is considered a great way to serve god — charging an arm and a leg for water. They presumably thought that providing adequate quantities of simple filtered or UV treated water would harm the “premium-ness” of their hospitality brand.

Then for a while,the airlines did the same. As you board an aircraft huffing and puffing,roasting in 46 degrees Celsius,with no aerobridge,smart girls in short skirts say in American-accented English,“Sorry ma’am,you have to buy water.” Now thankfully,you get served water without having to reach for your wallet. Why this is upsetting is because the process of modernising cannot come with a suspension of common sense,and do more harm than good for the majority. In modern five-star hotels until not long ago (and maybe still,in some),modernity was signaled by the absence of the mug in the bathroom and the presence of only toilet paper. Gradually,health faucets have made their way and newer hotels have them. I hope we aren’t going to be charged,like WiFi,for the water used.

Another puzzling abandonment of common sense in the name of going modern or global living is the disappearance of glasses at formal functions. At a conference recently,next to every seat there was a medium-sized bottle of water (apparently,the smaller ones were not available in the canteen that day). In the coffee break,people left their water behind. Not all returned,and not all to their original seats. Anticipating this,the canteen boy was instructed to remove all the water bottles and replace them with fresh bottles. “What do you do with the half-drunk ones?” I asked him. “What can I do,” he replied,“they are jhoota,and so we throw away the water.” Increasingly,I notice that we are doing away with drinking glasses at such events. If only we continued the habit of drinking water from glasses,that would be a lot less good drinking water going down the drain. Perhaps it’s the glasses we need to innovate and change,maybe make them throwaway and recyclable or biodegradable. That’s not a very tall task,is it?

Europeans and Americans who I meet at work ask me,when would Indians be ready to pay more for green products and when would ecological consciousness set in? And I always tell them,it is they who have not been careful in loading us with excessively packaged products in the name of modernity,introduced throwaway concepts in place of our good old refill packs and simple packing,stepped up the decibel level of advertising disposable diapers for our 21 million babies a year,without thinking if the drainage systems of our toilets can cope with it. We need to define our modernity more carefully,and more in keeping with the context we live in. n


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