When Rakhi and her husband bought their home in Gurgaon 8 years ago, it came with a bathtub in the living room. The twin tub had been bought to be installed but had simply been left behind by the previous owner of the house. Thinking it was too big to be installed in any of the bathrooms, Rakhi had it moved to her terrace where it has remained ever since. “Had it been used,” she said to me, “I wouldn’t have even kept it for a day, since it was an uninstalled one. I thought of using it in some way.”
Many bathtubs in Gurgaon, whether installed or not, go unused. The most often cited reasons for their disuse include scarcity of water, lack of time and inconvenience. Gurgaon’s groundwater is found only as deep as 40 meters below the surface and is known to be hard, often leaving behind residual deposits on bathroom fittings and floors. Moreover, bathtub installations are seldom leak proof, and it isn’t unusual to find seepage on the other side of the bathroom wall in the adjoining room. A bathtub salesman I spoke with told me bathtubs are for short-term use. “लोग शोंक पूरा करके निकाल देते हैं।” / “People satisfy their desire and then discard the bathtubs.”
Rakhi humoured my curiosity in bathtub behaviours. Speaking from experience, she called them out to be too much effort. In the winters, when she really longed for a hot water soak, it would take her three geysers full to fill her bathtub to the right temperature. If she soaked herself in a bubble bath, she would have to shower afterwards. If she wanted music or candles or rose petals, she’d have to plan beforehand. “There is a complete process that goes into using the bathtub,” she said to me.
Many developers building homes in Gurgaon have begun to recognize the waning desire of its residents to own a bathtub. Instead of pre-fitting houses with bathtubs, they now offer “bare-shell” homes and apartments with concrete columns, block walls, the main utility lines, and nothing else. Some years ago, a developer sat directly with their buyers to design their homes through a campaign called आपका घर, आपके मर्जी (Your Home, Your Way). Initiatives like these will potentially reduce the future population of discarded bathtubs. In the meantime, Gurgaon has many unwanted bathtubs, including Rakhi’s, which after years of disuse was brought down to her front lawn a few weeks ago to be disposed .
Ruchika Sethi, a citizen activist who has been advocating for better waste management practices in the city, classifies bathtubs as “inert waste.” This includes most construction waste that isn’t chemically or biologically reactive and will not decompose. Approximately 90% of it is recyclable, through pulverizing activities that break it down into components that can be used in mixtures for wall tiles or non-load bearing walls.
The reason, Ruchika says, there is no information on where to dispose bathtubs, or other construction waste for that matter, is because there is no ultimate place of disposal. There are no recycling plants in the city and the landfills are exhausted, leaving open dumping and burning as the only options. This is evident in the number of the bathtubs strewn on the streets of Gurgaon. “The bathtub,” Ruchika said to me, “is a dying object, and that it should die so publicly is a deserving requiem.”
Read Part 1 here.