My day job, as you might know by now, involves giving lectures in economics, finance and statistics – and therein lies today’s tale.
Some of these courses are for American students who spend a semester over here in India, learning about our country, our culture and our habits.
I enjoy teaching these classes, for it affords me an opportunity to learn more about our country, and because I enjoy learning about India through a different perspective that they bring.
Now, partly to alleviate the boredom of having to listen to me ramble on endlessly, and partly to provide them a chance to ask questions about India that aren’t exactly academic in nature, I leave some time towards the end of the class for “random” questions.
The idea is to ask questions about India that are interesting, thought provoking, and, as I said, perhaps non-academic.
“How does one cross streets in India?” is a perennial favourite, for example (my answer: start believing in god if you don’t already). “Why do Indians drink their coffee with milk?” is another (because filter coffee is the drink of the gods). And so on and so forth – you get the drift.
Now, the following question has popped up but once in the last ten years that I have been teaching this course, and that, to me, has been a source of some surprise. Maybe there’s some reticence involved, and maybe there’s a lack of familiarity – who knows. But the question, at long last, did put in an appearance.
“Why”, asked one of them, giggling a little as she asked it, “do you guys use water?”
Now, I could have said a hundred different things, all of them equally true, and in my mind, all clinching arguments. I could have spoken about Paper Not Really Doing The Job, or about the Danger of the Dangling Bit, or about How Frickin’ Rough Paper Can Be – as I said, all equally true, and all clinching arguments.
But I chose to go with what follows shortly. Much as I’d like to claim credit for this line of argument, I’ll be honest and say I read it somewhere (I honestly can’t remember where). But to say that the argument worked is a massive understatement.
“What if,” said the Defender of the Usage of Water, “ you happened, unfortunately, to get poop anywhere else on your body? Say, on your forearm. Would rubbing it off with a piece of tissue suffice, or would you want to wash it thoroughly… with water?”
Stunned silence ensued, I am happy to report.
The giggling was replaced with visages that reflected the dawning of comprehension, humble acknowledgement and the realisation that things would never be the same again.
One student, quite forgetting the academic setting we were in – overcome, no doubt, by the enormity of the realisation – couldn’t help but say, “Well, shit!”
“Oh, don’t worry,” I said magnanimously. “Just use water.”
He doesn't expect the paradox to be resolved in his lifetime