I hadn’t planned it, and Lord knows I certainly could have used that time more productively, but it was engrossing stuff (if you’ll pardon the pun.)
The blame for my lost morning lies squarely on the shoulders of Wajahat Ali, writer of the article, “Secrets of the Muslim Bathroom.” The title is misleading, as only one secret is divulged: the existence of the lota, a small water-filled vessel used to clean one’s nether regions (using the left hand, never the right) after using the toilet. This cleansing ritual, practised by the Prophet Muhammad himself, is called istinja.
I did not know this.
It annoys me when I uncover things I don’t know (I’m perpetually grumpy as a result), so I decided to educate myself by googling “lota.” You know what happened next: that giant sucking sound you heard Wednesday at 8:00 a.m. EST was me being swept into the vast, churning vortex known as The Internet.
I learned that the traditional lota was crafted from brass or copper and resembled a teapot. But time and the diaspora have blurred the lines of lota legitimacy. The modern-day version is the plastic watering can: inexpensive, lightweight, and widely available. Knowing that his “magical chalice” has morphed into something so prosaic makes Ali cringe. Still, it’s a far cry from the buckets of dubious water I saw beside squat toilets in Singapore and Malaysia. Those never looked the slightest bit hygienic.
(Fun fact: The round base of the old-school lota caused it to roll from side to side, and in a lovely instance of definition creep, the word now also refers to someone whose loyalties are constantly shifting. South Asian governments run by such politicians are called lotacracies. I can’t wait to casually drop that term into a conversation.)
My next move was to check out a few lota-related discussions on the Muslim forums. The one regarding the question, “Would you marry a girl who didn’t use a lota?” was especially fascinating. (The result? “No way!” by a landslide.) Interestingly, the bias against lota-less lovelies appears to be more a matter of culture and cleanliness than religion.
Here’s where it got a little weird. From there — and don’t ask me how; it’s all a blur— I started reading about the history of the toilet, which led me to the subject of human waste disposal in general. Somehow or other I ended up on Amazon, debating whether or not to buy the Toilets of the World wall calendar. (No, in case you were wondering.) Then I browsed the book section, bouncing from Everybody Poops 410 Pounds a Year to Kama Pootra (“Every time the bathroom door closes, a new experience awaits.”)
That’s when I knew it was time to call it a day.