The neighbourhood restaurant buzzed with the weekend frenzy. We settled down in our usual table in the corner as we deposited our companion water bottles. Our companion bottles have become a constant in our lives wherever we go — two blue bottles with a dark blue cap with water from our water purifying system. They tag along — to the supermarket, to the glitzy shopping malls, to the food-courts — just about everywhere. Naturally, this time was no different. We sat with our friends laughing and catching up. Our worlds and timelines merged and jumped as we relaxed into the evening when the unexpected happened. One hand absently reached for the bottled water from the restaurant.
“No,” we almost screamed.
“I just want water,” the man said.
We pursed our lips, took a deep breath and we explained. The mishap of the use of plastic was averted and the evening conversation swerved towards lifestyle choices, our planet and sustainability.
When I look back at this incident, I realise that we have had to repeat this many many times over the years during dinners and lunches to confused onlookers, that there is such a thing as “not using the bottled water from the restaurant”. Some friends have got a bit snarky, “and you can stop the disaster by carrying this?”, and point at our humble bottles. Fortunately, we have been at it, standing up for ourselves, every single time and we have said, ‘at least, that is one less!’
It has taken us many years to finally start caring enough for our planet that we no longer fuss over carrying our trade mark water bottles. And, to our surprise, no restaurant so far has turned us down.
Waiters at restaurants have been a different ball game altogether. Some understand, some others walk away quietly perhaps wondering how we are trying to save a few bucks over water, and rarely one or two compliment even as we unashamedly place our humble water on fancy table tops.
Long before I began to abuse the “distilled water”, I grew up drinking water gushing from the tap. Cold water, joyously poured out into my cupped hands and I have sipped deliriously from them. I did not use fancy cups or worry over where the water is from. I simply guzzled it up and laughed silly. And, when we travelled on a rare occasion, dad would alight from the train, run to the nearest water faucet, fill up our rounded steel pot with lid and run back to our seat before the train whistled. This used to be our greatest adventure as we watched dad await his turn in the crowded platform and we would call out to him fearing the train would whistle any minute.
Our planet comes first
I don’t remember when the whole fanciful distilled water disease hit us. Somehow, we stopped believing in public water fountains, even if it screamed “safe drinking water”. We stopped carrying our water. We began to buy them instead. Thirsty in a mall? We bought a small bottle. Thirsty again? We would buy another one. In fact, we didn’t like to buy a bigger bottle simply because, we were too lazy to carry one around.
We bought water in restaurants, malls, grocery stores — every where, till one day we found ourselves drowning in guilt. It was not easy at first. We felt awkward, silly, and strangely a bit uncomfortable to walk around with a bottle of water. Most of all, there was a sense of insecurity. “What would others think of us?”, bothered us. “Would they think, we are tight-fisted?”, lurked in the deep corners of our heart. But then, buying or clicking the seal open brought us only pain.
It has taken us many years to finally start caring enough for our planet that we no longer fuss over carrying our trade mark water bottles. And, to our surprise, no restaurant so far has turned us down. No shopping mall has refused our entry. So, the next time, you see two people with blue bottles walking aimlessly in the mall, you know who we are.
— Sudha Subramanian is an author and freelance writer based in Dubai. Twitter: @sudhasubraman