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Lota Stories 15 July 2008

Posted by Ayesha Mattu in BARAKA, Culture, Humor.
Image credit: www.urbanpeacock.com/images/

You know how sometimes you send out a link in an e-mail thinking it may interest your friends, and then receive an unexpected page-long response?

That happened recently when I sent out a link to an article in the race/culture journal ColorLines on the “shame and pride” of lotas and, by extension, our community’s traditional bathroom practices.

Lotas are water containers that look like teapots without the top, which are filled with water or milk and used for ritual purity purposes in South Asian Muslim households, and for religious/yogic rites in Hindu ones. However, the article notes, “once South Asian and Muslim immigrants come to the United States, the pressure to assimilate forces many of us to make the transition from lotah to toilet paper. But there are some South Asians who refuse to cross over. Instead, they find themselves living double lives, using lotahs-in-disguise.”

The article details the experiences (and related art show Fatal Love) associated with using lotas-in-disguise in public restrooms or while living with roommates or partners of a different background:

We soon discovered a secret society, one of closeted lotah users. We met people in streets and in cafes, even in their homes. These were strangers who were willing to lay themselves bare, not for money or fame (almost all the submissions were anonymous), but for the sake of being able to finally talk about their lotahs.

We received emails from teachers, teenagers, high-powered lawyers, statisticians, artists,and first-generation and second-generation South Asians. Most of them were nervous and excited during the interviews and emails, but talking about lotahs seemed to free them somehow…

Listening to their stories, I was amazed by the depth of people’s shame and the lengths that they had gone to in order to hide their lotahs…Why did lotahs feel so dirty, when using water was more clean?…The dominant culture knows that if you can make people feel shame, you can make them do anything.

Whether or not you agree with this analysis, when I sent out the link to some friends the email exchange that it prompted surprised and amused me:

Baraka: This is an interesting article – I was never embarrassed about lotas growing up. In fact I just thought anyone who didn’t use one was weird. And nasty! :)

Non-South Asian Recipient: Well, the concept of using water while cleansing yourself in the washroom in a Western context is not at all weird or awkward. In fact, it’s typically associated with luxury in the form of a bidet.

The difference between this approach and the South Asian approach is that nobody in a Western society wants to put their bare hand on, what may be, a messy bottom and rub it clean, thereby leaving one with the feeling that they just washed a toilet with a bare hand…not too appealing. “You mean that I have to put my fingers all over the source of my explosive diarrhea???”

However, with the concept of a Bidet, or perhaps even a “Muslim shower”, where one washes the bottom with a stream of fairly high-pressure water, and then wipes dry/clean using toilet paper, you eliminate the “poo-palm” or “crapnail” syndrome. It is also easily accomplished by using a preliminary wipe with TP, followed by a wipe of moistened TP (from the nearby sink, for example), finalized with a drying wipe of TP. “Wax-on, Wax-off!”

Using water is by far cleaner than paper alone. It’s pointless to argue otherwise. But people in the West are accustomed to not having to handle their own bodily refuse without a layer of paper/rubber/biohazard-suit as an intermediary. What we need is cooperation, and innovation…a middle-path, so to speak…and perhaps a H2O-TP combo will make everyone happy.

(Note that in an ideal situation, the bumwash H2O need not be potable—as is often the case in the West—and using lesser-grade water would greatly reduce the demands of water purification plants.)

As you can tell, I’ve spent too much time deliberating this topic.

Baraka: I stand amazed at your intensive research on the subject.

Wiping, followed by water, and another wipe not only eliminates “poo-palm” and “crapnail” (as you so eloquently call them), but also “dampbum.”

Very important in this age of synthetic, non-breathable fabrics.

Has using a lota or lota-in-disguise ever been funny or challenging for you while living outside of a Muslim-majority country?

Originally posted in Rickshaw Diaries in September 2005.



1. Anonymous - 15 July 2008

I recall walking towards the bathroom with my lota in my hand when one of my English flatmates saw me outside the bathroom and asked whether I was going to water the plants!

2. maximus mercury - 15 July 2008

oh Lord, it was a source of much shifty-eyed running back and forth between dorm-toilets and my room in college. The exhiliration of securing an en suite room was possibly the high point of my college life. :)

Then, there was the phase of trying to look unconcerned while you fill up a water bottle at the public bathroom sink and then *take it into the stall with you*!!!!

And now, given the slow but steady progress of western civilization, wet flushable wipes are available in the supermarkets, so I steadily avoid the gaze of others as I carry a wad of those into the bathroom with me, wrapped in a plastic bag but still horribly conspicuous. The worst is being accosted by your boss in the hall, *on the way* to the bathroom with said bundle in hand. That has also led to much shifty-eyed glancing down at my hands and consequent awkwardness.

But cleanliness is next to Godliness…

I’m still waiting for everyone in the world to catch up to the marvel that is “muslim showers” in the bathroom. They’re definitely a step up from lotas in general…except if they release a steady dribble from the point at which the pipe meets the nozzle, or if they’re, ahem, a bit too strongly pressurized. :)

Which also reminds me of a social problem I sometimes ponder…homeless people in PK do not have access to bathrooms nor to lotas. We have our share of cleanliness issues back home too and there are many eye-openers in the slums and wildernesses there. Many many opportunities for social work and change.

3. Naeem - 15 July 2008

Salaam Baraka and all others.
Love your blogs as I accidently came across “Rikshaw Dairies”once looking for a discussion topic and since then occassionally strolls through it. Great work!
Anyways……back to the lota stories.Well I couldn’t control myself from laughing while going through all those wonderful & funny comments. I myself went through the same stages of assimilation in the western society but yes lota is always there in our house (plenty of them) and my wife even gave it as a gift to few newly arrived Muslim immigrant families here in Canada (plz don’t laugh just imagine how relieved those familes would be finding lota at the time of need overhere…:)). The interesting thing is that one of our family friend who is by the way a pure white Canadian and highly educated got quite impressed when my wife first explained the philosphy of lota usage to her. She even asked for one to be given to her and my wife happily offered her a new lota as a gift and since then she is using it at her home and also shown her two cute sons how to use it…..nice isn’t it?………As for Pakistani “Political Lotas” I think anyone of Pakistani origin knows a lot about them…..lol

4. Achelois - 15 July 2008

Haha! I like you friend’s research.

A second hole has been drilled into me unexpectedly no thanks to the high pressure of a “Muslim shower”! They are dangerous.

5. A musing muslim - 16 July 2008

Aha! Thanks for bringing the lotta out of the closet. Now if only finding them here was as easy.

See here:

6. Maithri - 18 July 2008

Haha!! This is so true and hilarious too…

Water is the south asian way… and the cleaner one at that ;)

Trust me I’m a doctor lol,

Love and peace, M

7. TwennyTwo - 18 July 2008

I seem to remember a discussion via Akram on lotas? I need to go search it out.
As a person of non SA descent, I love lotas ( hint, anyone who knows me, can I get one!) esp. after I learned of the Muslim cleaning practices. They look better.

And yeah, I keep either an empty bottle or the refillable purse-pack of wipes with me. You have to work it even in the Western context. Bump those who look askance- they don’t launder my unders.


8. Umm Salihah - 25 July 2008

Salaams Baraka,
when we were house hunting a few years back, we’d look at pictures on the internet and you could always tell which was a Muslim house because in the pic of the bathroom there would be a lota peeking out from somewhere.

At the moment its a empty water bottle at work for me, although I keep finding empty water cups in the loos, so obviously other people miss their lota too.

Love the comments on here, everyone at work is wondering why I have got the giggles, but I don’t fancy explaining about lota’s to them.

9. Farhana - 29 July 2008

As-salaamu’alaykum wa Rahmatu Llahi wa Barakatuhu my dearest sister Baraka,
I pray all is well at your end.

Interesting post! Who knew there was so much to say about this topic. :D

Wa’alaykum as-salaam
Love Farhana

10. shine87 - 31 July 2008

ROFL hahahaha that was funny,
My experiance happened when i visited Japan with my family last year, in the hotel rooms needless to say we coudnt find a lota.So my dad ordered a 2 liter bottle of coke and a pair of scizors.We cut the bottle in half and than carved out a sort of triangle poking out on the top for pouring,.we had to make do with that for the rest of our stay :) .

P.s : Cleaning directly from a lota is GROSS, in pakistan we use tissues and than apply water.

11. UmmFarouq - 1 August 2008

Several months back Hijab Man wrote a post on breaking the silence: the coffee pot lota. This one is a real belly buster. Come on, hotel visitors who need to go potty, be honest. Have you done this?


12. cncz - 3 August 2008

Salam alaikoum
North Africans have what I call the “Empty Evian Bottle” lota, it creates a lot of plausible deniability, but I personally hate carrying one around (gaah). However, NH and I usually buy a drink when we are out and then “share the bottle” if we are away from home for a day. At work it is harder.

13. Paul Rasid - 6 November 2009

I am proud to say that I have just produced a possible solution for all the water people out there. I too have many funny stories about using water for my personal bathroom hygiene. And I have discovered many people who share this ritual of habit and only use toilet paper to dry oneself. I have a site OBBprducts.com that has lots of information and talks about coming out of the “Water Closet” . It is called The Original Bidet Bottle and I want it to someday be in every bathroom. It is ergonomically designed to fit all hand sizes and comes as a set. Visit my site, I think that you will like what I have created.

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