How do you explain ‘the lota’ to a foreigner?

Published: August 24, 2013
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Americans and Brits are especially fascinated by the lota.

We miss many things when we’re living away from home – mangoes, bun kebabs, paan, the dust, the loadshedding. Okay, okay, just kidding! We miss some of these things, but we manage without them, one way or another.

There is one thing you cannot do without, though, and that’s the lota. It is such an integral item of sub-continental and Muslim culture, that even a short term visitor such as the famous American designer Charles Eames couldn’t help but notice it most particularly when he visited India in 1958.  He had this to say about it:

“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.”

There you go. Beautiful? Yes, he was talking about the brass lota that the village women clean and polish with tamarind and ash each day, turning the ‘brass into gold’. They are beautiful… and very heavy.

Most people flying out struggle with weight restrictions, so carrying a heavy brass lota in your luggage is an extravagance when there are achaars (pickles), chilli chips and bottles of Mushroob-e-Mashriq sherbet fighting for space in a suitcase. The ubiquitous, elemental, and exceedingly essential lota loses out in the process. You will not see brass lotas much outside Pakistan. Instead, you’ll see ugly plastic ones which replaced the bronze ones in Pakistan a while ago in any case.

So what do you do once you’ve reached your particular pardes and you have no lota in the new house? You reach for the nearest milk bottle, of course.

You’ll find all sorts of milk bottles in people’s bathrooms out there – full cream, low fat, skim, soya, chocolate, vanilla, or my favourite, strawberry. People are strangely coy about them.

“Why’s there always a milk bottle in your bathroom?” visitors have asked – always American.

They’re refreshingly forthright.

In England I caught a native looking bemusedly at my strawberry soya milk bottle (organic) before she shut the door to the powder room, and I waited with an array of answers provided by errant nephews (one of whom claimed to possess a folding lota that fit in his wallet, but it turned out to be only a zip lock bag) for just this purpose.

The answers included:

1) I use it all the time to irrigate my nose. I have a deviated septum.

2) I prefer strawberry soya, so I removed the chocolate you saw when you were last here; sorry.

3) Would you prefer the chocolate? I can put that back if you like.

4) It’s a Pakistani superstition.

5) In Pakistan we like to keep our cows in the bathroom, but we can’t do that here, and the milk bottle reminds the kids of that tradition.

Or simply:

6) Which milk bottle? (That one really freaks them out for a while)

Sadly, for one reason or the other, most of those responses were not used – firstly because the Americans are honest enough to ask without being oblique so you are not tempted to match delicacy with wit, and secondly, because the Brits would rather die before they ask any such question. They’d pick their way through 10 milk bottles in a single bathroom and pretend it was a normal feature of every bathroom decor. In fact, they would claim that “it was Aunt Doris’ favourite bathroom accessory too, wasn’t it, Anthea?”

Oh, why the fuss! Bring the lotas out of the closet. Let Ikea carry dismantle-able ones in their standard flat colours, and back here in Pakistan, how about Haji Karim Baksh carrying a line of lota gifts for relatives in the West?

‘Loin of the Punjab!’ (sic) proclaims a T-shirt in one of the shops in Lahore, alongside a gun-toting portrait of Sultan Rahi. The lotas could carry just that slogan, no Sultan Rahi required at all.


Rabia.Ahmed

Rabia Ahmed

The author is a freelance writer and translator.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Maya

    LOL …I can identify completely with this article ! When is Ikea going to bring out the contemporary version of the lota !
    When we go on holidays to Europe, the 1st thing we pack is a couple of empty..NOT.. milk bottles but empty plastic drinking water bottles !!
    When my Romanian cleaner first started cleaning for us..and I had to explain the lota concept to her. She remarked ‘ Why don’t you have a bidet,like we have in Europe?’! In fact, I want one of those high tech toilets they have in Japan, where a jet of water washes you and then ehem dries you ! That would sound the death knell of the lota !
    ..To be honest, a lot of my gorey patients also keep empty bottles in their bathrooms for hygiene purposes…so the concept is definitely catching on !Recommend

  • Taimoor

    I’d rather not keep it in the bathroom when living in a shared apartment. I carry it with me whenever I want to use it to avoid the embarrassment of explaining to them its use.Recommend

  • Pappu

    I am shocked that people still use lota for washing purpose.Recommend

  • Muhammad Ishfaq

    My favorite answer would be…
    5) In Pakistan we like to keep our cows in the bathroom, but we can’t do that here, and the milk bottle reminds the kids of that tradition.
    Well done….Rabia Ahmed… ET blogs don’t make people smile too oftenRecommend

  • Flummoxed

    I had to google lota…I didn’t know what it meant.
    But,why milk bottles …why not mugs or water jets ?Recommend

  • Flummoxed

    I had to google ‘lota’… didn’t know what it meant.
    But why a milk bottle…why not a regular mug or a water jet ?Recommend

  • Rabia

    @Taimoor: why the awkwardness? The dry version of a lota is hanging on the holder for all to see. Keep your lota right there, you only live once :)Recommend

  • Asif Zaidi

    It’s the greatest invention since the dawn of civilisation, and yet largely undiscovered in the West. ..Recommend

  • Skid mark

    @ Maya

    I don’t get it… the last line of your comment implies that some westerners are begining to use bottles …
    My question is..what did they do before that- just ‘dry clean’ with toilet paper ?
    I thought the correct practice was to use paper and then water..Recommend

  • Muhammad Ishfaq

    A Muslim shower is the best substitute but perhaps it is also not easily available in American or European marketsRecommend

  • Talib

    Watch Diary of a Badman Lota song on YoutubeRecommend

  • Ali Tanoli

    Hahahaha good one shah rukh khan in Devdas saying i dont shake hands with gora because they dont use LOTA…………..Recommend

  • Hahahaha…. OMG. This was so hilarious.Recommend

  • Gemini

    Lotas all the wayRecommend

  • Prabhjyot Singh Madan

    Lota reflects our attitude towards life. All hail mighty lota, a symbol of ignorance in our sub continent. Sigh :(Recommend

  • http://Lahore Fudge

    Oh, I can totally relate! Brought smiles and sharing with family ;) . Thanks :)Recommend

  • http://Lahore Fudge

    This and making waddu in public restrooms at work is something I get very uncomfortable of explaining to people….. when they see me washing my feet in the sink or when I come back looking like I just took a shower after a 5 minute restroom break! :D Recommend

  • csmann

    funny!!Recommend

  • Aliya

    Measuring jugs make good lotas but their presence in bathrooms are very difficult to explain to Goras!Recommend

  • nassi

    The brass lota shown in the picture looks a bit obscene to me, its spout is more appropriate for colonic than nasal irrigation.Recommend

  • expaki

    Rabia !! Pakistan is most advance in LOTA industry. We have Miti Lota, Plastic Lota, Bottle Lota, Brass Lota, and HEAVY WEIGHT DIESEL WALA LOTA.Recommend

  • Shamy

    Lol ! i can relate to this article :)Recommend

  • http://khatirnama.blogspot.com pashto times

    Lota is a particular product in Pakistan, produced by selfish, silly and senseless Pakistani politicians. surely it can not be explained to anyone other out side Pakistan. Recommend

  • Parvez

    ………….and so you have a wacky funny side as well.
    How did you miss out on mentioning the ‘ muslim shower ‘ contraption that’s now, just about everywhere.
    In Seoul our hotel had a very efficient system built into the seat with 3 buttons to press and WALLA ! …….magic. Can you imagine the delight of the children on discovering this ??
    I don’t believe I’m commenting on this and laughing my head of at the same time.
    Recommend

  • Hatter

    A very funny and amusing article but also very true!=D…Reminds me of the time when on a trip to the U.K. we had to abashedly carry empty plastic water bottles to the public bathrooms!Recommend

  • Saima

    @ Pappu: Why the shock? The lota is here to stay! :)

    For some reason, i find the word “muslim shower” amusing. Give it another name please people, whoever it is who names things…Recommend

  • Bored

    1- Lota… You wont find it in 99% of Pakistani households even in villages they use Muslim Shower. Please stop acting, you knew that, didn’t you?

    2- I have used water bottels in hotels in Rome & London but residents can always get a muslim shower fitted, or as a minimum get plastic jusgs, and in london take a tube to southhall and you will find all types and colors of lotas including made in Gujranwala!

    3- Do you have lotas in your parliament?

    Recommend

  • binger

    I can truly understand your misery,
    I know some of my fellows who wait until they get back to their apartments
    for pooh or pee because no lotas are available in the offices.

    he he he he he he he he he he he he heRecommend

  • Nooni

    And what is the relation between this utensil and a politician?Recommend

  • Parvez

    You must write more such stuff.
    I enjoyed this soo much that I was laughing when I commented and sure enough it went up in smoke………I’m sure I pressed the right button.
    In your deep, deep analysis you missed out on mentioning the creative gadget ‘ the muslim shower ‘ found just about everywhere now replacing the humble lota.
    When in Seoul the hotel had on its ‘seat’ three buttons you press and presto !…….magic.
    The discovery and delight on the childrens faces said it all.Recommend

  • KM

    OMG this is so true and funnily enough I can relate to this article. Just a few months back my Irish friends asked me why is there a TEAPOT in the bathroom and I was literally in stitches, it was like a breaking news for them when I explained what it was and how its used they were fascinated, which consequently led me to ask them how do they do it and suffice to say it wiped the smile off my face. Recommend

  • DM

    @Pappu:
    YES!!! it is essential when you dont have muslim showers eveywhere in Europe.Recommend

  • DM

    @Taimoor:
    I rather, proudly tell them the benefits of water and if they are OK and sometimes want to learn more, I dont miss the oppurtunity to´inform them how our Prophet (S.A.W.W) taught the ettiquettes of using a washroom. There is wisdom in everything our religion teach us.Recommend

  • p

    good blog.. seriously there any be no replacement for lota Recommend

  • Maya

    @ SKID MARK…seriously almost fell off my chair lol at your nick name with regards to this lota topic!

    Well, here in the West people have always used just dry toilet paper which I think is just unhygienic . You can now buy packets of moist toilet paper in supermarkets which we use when travelling.
    With reference to my last line , a lot of Westerners are now realising the benefits of using water to clean after using the toilet. So, I have noticed many of my patients who suffer from regular urine infections etc mentioning to me in passing that they now always wash ‘down’ with water after using toilet paper.Recommend

  • Truth

    One can go to Walmart and ask for “Garden Watering Can”….its sibling of Lota….

    http://www.amazon.com/Fiskars-20-24482-2-Liter-Watering-Khaki/dp/B003G580TO/ref=sr16?s=lawn-garden&ie=UTF8&qid=1377452547&sr=1-6&keywords=garden+watering+can

    http://www.amazon.com/Fiskars-20-24982-2-Liter-Watering-Black/dp/B005MHD7Q0/ref=sr15?s=lawn-garden&ie=UTF8&qid=1377452547&sr=1-5&keywords=garden+watering+can

    http://www.amazon.com/Plastic-Gray-Elephant-Watering-Can/dp/B0026MHWZ6/ref=sr18?s=lawn-garden&ie=UTF8&qid=1377452547&sr=1-8&keywords=garden+watering+canRecommend

  • goggi (Lahore)

    Chinese population = 1,354,040,000

    Indian population = 1,270,272,105

    Pakistan population = 183,343,000

    South Korea Population = 50.000.000

    Japan population = 127,800,000

    Indonesia population = 237,424,363

    Malaysia population = 28.334.135

    Bangladesh population = 161.000.000

    Turkey population = 75,627,384[

    Total Arab League population = 369,243,763

    African continent = 1,032,532,974

    AT LEAST SO MANY PEOPLE USE EVERY DAY A LOTA, WATERING POT, A SHOWER INVENTED FROM THE INNOVATIVE KOREANS OR JUMP IN THE POND(as I saw in villages and mountains of Pakistan). THE OTHER HALF OF UNHYGIENIC POPULATION ONE CAN JUST IGNORE!

    LOTA BY THE WAY IS TOTALLY INCONVENIENT AND UNSUITABLE FOR THE SMALL AND NARROW WC. ONE MUST RAISE THE WHOLE LEFT THIGH, BEND ON THE RIGHT AND IF ONE IS OVER-WEIGHT, NO FORGET THE LOTA IN EUROPE! BEST IS WATER PIPE!

    IN ITALY, FRANCE AND SPAIN THE MIDDLE-CLASS HAVE IN THEIR TOILETS AN EXTRA LOW-MOUNTED SINK WITH WATER PIPE, TO WASH THE GENITALIA. THIS IS CALLED “BIDET”:Recommend

  • SoldierBazari

    Explain it away as liquid tissue paper…Recommend

  • Parvez

    Commented twice both times my computer showed it was under moderation……….and then the comment vanished. I stand defeated by the bumble lota………I surrender.
    Recommend

  • http://. Abid P. Khan

    @Asif Zaidi:
    “It’s the greatest invention since the dawn of civilisation, and yet largely undiscovered in the West. ..”
    .
    Marie-Antoinette and her spouse, Louis XIV lived in the huge palace at Versailles. It had no toilettes! Imagine the plight of the commoners who did not own even a palace! Recommend

  • Gp65

    @Nooni:
    Originally the way a lotta was designed was that it did not have a flat bottom. Therefore when placed on the ground, it would not stay in one place. It would roll across according to centre of gravity. Political lots, role according to center of power.

    @Author. Nice light- hearted article. You said lots is a big part of Muslim and subcontinental culture I think the religious qualifier was unnecessary, this is common to all in the subcontinent. It is not common across all Muslims in the world.

    @Fudge – what is waddu? Why is it done? Never heard the term, so even if I may have observed the practice I. Cannot correlate. Thanks in advance.Recommend

  • Basha

    We have been living in United Kingdom for 40 years and we have always used a plastic Mug in our toilets. We take a plastic mug with us when we go on holidays and it is very convenient to use when you are staying in a hotel.

    A Lota is an obsolete item. A politician who changes his stance when under pressure is also called a Lota. So the term Lota should be reserved for such people, they are easily explainable to any foreigner. Most foreigners know that many Pakistanis are Lotas.Recommend

  • Hassan Aftab

    We may eventually loose the lota to Muslim shower. The term lota will live on, describing a certain type of politicians. It was fun reading the blog.Recommend

  • Owais

    As the sheikh Deedat Ahmed said once,

    ” a whole gallon to wash the the commode and not a drop for yourself???Recommend

  • Rabia

    @SoldierBazari: why agonise over explaining yourself in any way?! It’s how we do it, folks.
    @goggi: I love your very graphic comment. We obviously missed out important details in the illlustrations:)Recommend

  • Rabia

    @Truth: well many people do stock the the WalMart vessels. But you know, given its very long spout it tends to be a bit overenthusiastic and overshoots the mark very often. The lota is like a GPS, it gets there spot on every time.
    @Maya, you’re quite right. Doctors in the US do recommend washing for certain complaints where there is too much acid excreted by the body. Recommend

  • Rabia

    @Aliya: I think we owe it to our guests to place some kind of disclaimer on the measuring jug that says, ‘this vessel was not used when making the souffle you just had for lunch.’
    @ Pervez, thank you for your appreciation. Whacky sides are integral to survival. And yes the muslim shower has more or less replaced the lota in most homes, although for all those thousands who still use secluded corners of sugar cane fields, I think they may have found it hard to find sufficiently lengthy pipes:)
    @Pappu, I agree wholeheartedly, I totally dislike the name ‘muslim shower’. All those who have suggestion, please raise their hands (and make them). Blogs desk @trubune, please note :)Recommend

  • Kiran

    Hilarious! And, very relatable. Luckily in Dubai, all the loo’s have the ‘Muslim’ or I would rather say ‘hand shower’. It’s the first thing on our list to check the provision in the hotel bathroom and on the streets, when we travel…whether we need a water bottle or not. For the west, I think you guys should install a hand shower or get a ‘Toto’ Tokyo toilet with a wash and dry. We were pleasantly surprised with how clean public toilets are in Japan, all had a Toto…and there’s no water spill from the use of the Obsessive compulsive lot, who like to use a lot of water :) ikea should have some kind of an inventive portable hand shower…I don’t know where the water will come from, something to attach water bottles to I guess…lol Recommend

  • dude

    now in Indian citis we use water sparystrong textRecommend

  • Skid mark

    @ Rabia

    I think Maya was refering to E.coli infections..

    @ Maya

    I did choose a strange nickname : ) When I was a first yr student in bangalore,my roommate,who was a house surgeon,said that westerners had higher rates of rectal ca,because of their ‘dry cleaning’..I think she was joking about that etiology ! Anyway it was a new concept,for me atleast that anyone would actually go without soap and water usage…when I asked my mother-she put me off saying,westerners use t.p.and then water.Anyway,your reply cleared it all up for me.Recommend

  • Asif Zaidi

    …Working with staff at a public railway station, for over twenty years,I’m never questioned why I’m carrying a 2 gallon watering can with me on my ‘comfort breaks’. lolRecommend

  • Rofl

    @ Rabia

    A westerner who began to use water remarked ‘once you wash that crack,you can’t go back’.

    @ goggi

    Yeow man… Lol !Recommend

  • Parvez

    @Rabia: You’re so right, I forgot the villages and fields …………point well made.
    Recommend

  • UK Student.

    My favorites are missing………… the coke and mineral water bottle. :-)
    an easy disguise!Recommend

  • Fiz

    @Skid mark:
    You are right. My husband is a cholorectal surgeon here in UK and his observation is the same as that house surgeon. The reason is obvious. Goras have no use of lotas. They look at it with queer eyes. However that was the very first thing that I bought when I landed here some 10 yrs ago. Yes, in this age of global village you can now get anything anywhere. However I like muslim shower. The kind that you see in Dubai. To me it is Misri lota because I saw it for the first time when we landed in Eygpt a long long time ago. Recommend

  • Peter Pan

    Whats the big deal – it is a hand held Bidet!
    You can buy these things on Amazon.com
    Try one! Recommend

  • Basha

    @Basha:
    Alota can also be a symbol for such politicians on their ballot box. People in Pakistan will recognise them with ease and be able to cast their vote for the right person.Recommend

  • Basha

    @Skid mark:
    No one uses a soap. it is too irritant. we only use water on its own. No tissues.

    Please correct the 4th line of your post.Recommend

  • Basha

    @dude:
    In those areas where piped water is available.

    Please correct me if I am wrong, I am in Pakistan and we have the same situation here. no difference. Recommend

  • Basha

    @Muhammad Ishfaq:
    It is difficult to use in very cold weather. When it will give you ice cold water.

    A jug of water can have mixed hot and cold water providing warm water at the desired temperature.

    A bidet has been invented that supplies warm water shower incorporated in the basin. but it is expensive.Recommend

  • Arooj Ahmed

    This was the most hilarious blog on ET. Made me laugh hard. :DRecommend

  • Basha

    In Uk a hand shower can’t be used as the water is ice cold.

    A toilet seat has been advertised with a warm water spray included in the seat. As all new inventions are expensive it will take many years to become common.

    One litter mug is used by a majority of Asian people to wash in the toilet.

    Lota is a term used for Politicians who change their mind frequently. Many Pakistani politicians are Lotas, but now we can include Barak Obama in this category.

    Instead of finding out who used the chemical weapons in Syria. They have sent a very high powered UN team to confirm that chemical weapons have been used. They argue that If these are confirmed as chemical weapons then it must be Asad who used them.

    I wish they are standing in front a court of Law when they say this. The Judge will through their argument out in no time.

    The Judge will tell them that are Lotas.Recommend

  • http://. Abid P. Khan

    @Parvez:
    “@Rabia: You’re so right, I forgot the villages and fields ………….”

    .
    Not only that, she forgot to mention whether they would prefer 3G over 4G, when they are conducting their morning business in the fields.Recommend

  • sajjad

    @ the Writer and ET Moderators;
    I guess u guys missed it..but its “Lion of the Punjab”, not “Loin”..as in “Fruit of my Loins..”Recommend

  • Rabia

    @sajjad: I didn’t miss it, Sajjad, nor did ET or the guys who printed that T Shirt, I’m presuming. It is definitely ‘loin’ (as in fruit of someone’s loins), a hit on the way ‘lion,’ the animal is often pronounced), which is what makes it funny, isn’t it?!Recommend