January 22, 2020
Tears trickled down my face as I sat on the toilet on the first day of preschool. Corduroys and Batman undies between my ankles, I scanned the bathroom in vain. I couldn’t find a chambu here in a preschool in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Hearing desperate pleas for my mother, my teacher knocked at the door, concerned. I continued to cry, unable to express what was amiss in my native tongue of Telugu. Gingerly opening the door, my teacher, a white Canadian, entered and asked what was wrong. She pointed to the toilet paper roll to my right. Unable to speak English, I vigorously shook my head in dissent. After a few frustrating minutes of me pointing to the tap, she somehow inferred that the mysterious chambu I sought was a mug of water. With the honorable disposition of a blue-helmeted Canadian United Nations peacekeeper, she mercifully retrieved a Dixie cup from the water cooler and washed me at last.
Only later would I realize that I had been caught in the middle of a great global battle, one largely separated by the East-West dichotomy.
From prehistoric times, man has used a remarkable variety of instruments for cleaning up after the act. Nothing has been off-limits. We’ve used leaves, grass, corn cobs, animal furs, snow, and seashells. Over time, we’ve come to two schools of thought: toilet paper and water.
Proponents of each side viewed the other’s practices with disgust. What type of people only needed paper to clean up? What type of people used their hands? Interlopers were left living in shame and secrecy. Factions crossed cultures and nations.
One fateful day, decades into my life, a new path emerged for me, beyond these two options, a new middle ground that dismantled the binary. It combined the best of both into one all-inclusive package — the hydrodynamic fluidity of water with the tactile solidity of paper: