If you have traveled to India or Islamic countries like Indonesia and Pakistan, you may have noticed something rather curious by a toilet: first, the absence of any toilet paper, which sends most Americans into a sweaty panic; second, the presence of a small round vessel with a handle that resembles a teapot. WTF? Who reaches for a cup of tea when they are sitting on the toilet? Well, America, say “goodbye” to toilet paper, and “hello” to the humble lota that has been cleaning derrières reliably for centuries. The timing is perfect, as the insidious COVID-19 pandemic spreads from country to country, setting off a panic for toilet paper hoarding. If you have been to a grocery store recently, it’s a real — pardon the expression — shit show. People are hurtling down the paper goods aisle, crouched over in a menacing pose, determined to push aside or run down any shopper that crosses their path to grab the most coveted item in the store — rolls of toilet paper.
But we digress. Let’s get back to the lota. Most Americans don’t know squat about this versatile little vessel. The lota (a Hindi word, pronounced “LOH tah”) is a spherical vessel with a small spout and scooped neck which makes it easy to hold between the fingers. The bottom of the lota is usually flat. Some lotas have a handle, making it look like a small teapot. Clearly, ancient people learned that necessity is the mother of invention. Unfortunately we don’t really know who exactly invented the lota, in contrast to the flush toilet that was invented by Sir John Harrington (1596) and refined by Alexander Cumming (1775) — and no, Thomas Crapper did not invent the toilet, his contribution was the S-bend trap and ballcock (1880). (Incidentally, the word “crap” referring to defecation was introduced in 1846, ten years after Crapper was born. Crap! — Crapper cannot take credit for the toilet or the word!) Nevertheless, archeologists have found some of the earliest lotas, dating back to 2300 BCE, located in the ancient village of Daimabad, on the bank of Pravara River in India. The earliest lotas were made of metals, like bronze, copper, and brass. Prior to the use of metals, lotas were made of hollowed out melons. Today, many lotas are made of clay or plastic. In Indian culture, the lota serves several functions: carrying water, storing water, religious rituals (eg, holding sacred water from the river Ganges), practicing yoga, cleaning nasal passages, and personal hygiene (bathing and washing after urination or defecation). Rest assured that there is a different type of lota for each of these functions, that is to say, one lota is not used for all of these functions in a household.
Renowned American designer Charles Eames, who traveled to India in late 1950s, was fascinated by the lota’s design and versatility. Perhaps the lowly lota got the bum rap; in a report published in 1958, Eames gushed: “Of all the objects we have seen and admired during our visit to India, the Lota, that simple vessel of everyday use, stands out as perhaps the greatest, the most beautiful. The village women have a process which, with the use of tamarind and ash, each day turns this brass into gold. But how would one go about designing a Lota?” Eames then lists ten factors that a designer would have to consider to design a product with such form and function, including optimum amount of water to transport in it, the size and strength of hands to carry it, the balance of gravity when it was empty or full, optimal size of opening, etc.
So how exactly do you use a lota? It’s rather simple: while you are squatting over the toilet, you hold the lota so that the spout approaches your keister and then you tilt it so that a gentle stream of water washes over it. Some individuals choose to lather their fingers with soap and go in for an assist, when water alone won’t do the trick. One loyal lota user added this detail, “Sometimes you need to use your fingers to remove the danglers.” (For heaven’s sake — TMI!) Nevertheless, dedicated lota users believe that this process does a far better job of cleaning your poop chute, than toilet paper that simply smooshes fecal matter around (Gross! that is a scatological image you don’t want lingering in your mind!). The key is to keep the water temperature lukewarm. “If it is too hot,” explained one cheeky user, “it will melt your chocolate starfish.” (For Chrissake — that just ruined chocolates forever!) Naturally, it is important to wash your hands thoroughly when doing due diligence on your bottom. If you happen to find chocolate on your hands (and you know what I mean), then you haven’t done a sufficiently good job. See — you don’t need no stinkin’ toilet paper!
OK, so you are sold on the benefits of the lota and your anal sphincter (forgive me, I am trying to work in all the synonyms) will be better for it — where do you buy one? If you live in India or most parts of Asia, you will find them at all the local markets; however, if you don’t, you are shit out of luck. Kidding. You have two options: shop online where options abound in terms of size, shape, and material. The second option is to visit your local hardware store and go the the nursery. Just for the fun of it, ask an associate, “Hi, I am looking for your selection of lotas. Where can I find them?” The initial response will be, “Oh, you mean lotus flowers?” “No,” you clarify, “I mean that small container to wash my pooper.” After the associates sprints away from you, casually wander over to the section where they display watering cans. Many individuals simply buy the smallest watering they can find. But since “objects in the mind may be smaller than they appear in real life,” buy the size that conforms best to your specific bum size — real or imagined.
Given the Great American Toilet Paper Shortage we are all facing (Thanks a lot COVID-19!), it makes sense to enthusiastically encourage grocery stores across the country to cease stocking toilet paper, and in its place, stock lotas of every size, shape, and color. After all, rebuffing toilet paper might be the best thing for the environment — and your fanny.
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For further reading: qz.com/india/1110154/a-celebration-of-indian-design-from-the-humble-lota-to-the-iconic-ambassador/