by Vidya Jonnalagadda
We bemoan the rising lawlessness on our roads; if a traffic policeman is not in sight, every vehicle from a bicycle to a bus will run the red light. Is it that our society lives more by fear of penalty than by self-discipline and doing the right thing?
The incident I want to relate relates to awareness of ‘jootha’ (in Hindi), or ‘ushTa’ (in Marathi) and ‘engilee’ (in Telugu) – sadly there is no term in English to describe this ‘status’ of food and vessels. The closest term I could think of to explain this to my Jewish American son-in-law is ‘contaminated by spit’! Though in my grandfather’s orthodox household, it was not necessary for your saliva to come in direct contact with an item to make it ushTa; touching a container of rice, say, with your (clean and dry) left hand while eating from a plate with your right hand was enough to render the whole pot of rice ‘contaminated’!
But I am digressing – this post is not about how circuits are created to make objects ushTa. It is about the simple decency of common folk. We often buy provisions from a crowded little store in a very crowded big market (the well-known Monda market of Secunderabad), where one has to weave watchfully through cows and carts, people and parcels, and vendors and vehicles to cross a street. So, outside this modest grocery store is a rickety stool carrying a small water dispenser – a plastic jar with a tap. A small steel glass rests on the jar (not tied to it). As I was waiting in the shop for the girl at the counter to bring me the items on my list, I saw a young mother and child stop at the water dispenser. The child could not have been more than five. The mother carefully rinsed only the inside of the glass with a tablespoon or so of water, and filled it up for her child to drink. She poured small 'gulpfuls' of the water into the mouth of her child, taking care not to let the lips of the child touch the rim of the glass. She then refilled the glass and drank some water herself – pouring it down her throat – and put back the glass to continue along the street. She was unaware that I was watching her from the store.
I was moved by what I had seen. There was neither a person to monitor the ‘proper’ use of the glass, nor were there any written instructions posted nearby urging one to ‘maintain’ hygiene. She could have sipped water directly from the glass, and even walked away with it, or left the tap dripping. Treating the water dispenser with respect came from the strong cultural upbringing of that young mother, which she was imparting to her little child. I kept smiling to myself throughout the day, happy to see that there are still many simple decent honest people around.