Out of toilet paper? There’s always the lota

Some of us have found a sliver of levity amid the coronavirus scare, watching our fellow Americans awkwardly balancing 30-pack, 2-ply toilet paper in their arms.

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A lota from the bathroom of the author’s friends.

A lota from the bathroom of one of the author’s friends.


Nothing about the coronavirus pandemic is funny.

But some of us have found a sliver of levity watching panicked Americans hoarding toilet paper, awkwardly balancing 30-pack, 2-ply rolls in their arms as if they’re readying for a showdown.

“Americans freaking out about toilet paper & Indians are knowingly smiling & nodding,” comic Hari Kondabolu tweeted a few days ago.

Without getting too detailed, many of us with Asian, Middle Eastern and/or Muslim backgrounds use toilet paper only as reinforcement.

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Charmin and Cottonelle have never been our first line of defense.

Water-filled vessels — commonly known as lotas in Urdu or Hindi — are the weapons of choice for many Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis.

Filipinos, I learned recently from my high school classmates on Facebook, refer to a similar device as the tabo. Indonesians, the gayung. Iranians, have aftabehs. A Sun-Times intern, whose family hails from South Africa and speaks Gujarati, says they call it a shamboo.

“Why do you have a watering can in your bathroom?” houseguests unfamiliar the lota always ask.

The explanation that follows — that we use water from the handheld pots — are greeted with expressions of horror and confusion that, at times, teeter on xenophobia.

Gross. Disgusting. Weird.

A lota from a bathroom of the author’s childhood home.

A lota from a bathroom of the author’s childhood home.


What many Americans don’t realize and maybe really don’t care is that plenty of others around the world find toilet paper-only bathroom etiquette equally bizarre.

“They don’t use a lota?” my cousins in India queried on my previous visits overseas.

When I told them “no,” they’d gasp wide-eyed in disbelief and scream “chee,” which is basically the Urdu equivalent of “eeeeew.”

Personally, I cannot fathom going without a lota or a makeshift emergency version in the form of a water bottle, Solo cup, flushable wipe or wet toilet paper.

My brother and sister-in-law have installed jet-spray nozzles in their bathrooms as a fancier alternative. Others, in countries including Europe and Japan, have gotten accustomed to bidets, which have been selling swiftly in the United States since terrified crowds started stockpiling toilet paper.

Many of us who have grown up using the lota don’t know why it or its modern equivalents haven’t caught on in America since these methods are extremely hygienic and less damaging to the environment.

Then again, as children of immigrants of color, we are aware that our centuries-old customs gain traction in the West only when those who resemble us the least start adopting them.

Who knows? Maybe Gwyneth Paltrow will be inspired. She can peddle an $8,000 rose gold porcelain lota on Goop, pretentiously calling it a “personal pour,” prompting hundreds of plastic knockoffs fashioned after the lotas available on Devon Avenue.

In the meantime, brown celebrities are giving us a wink and nod and a much-needed laugh during this deadly health crisis.

“Would you buy this lota y or n?” Hasan Minhaj’s crew at “Patriot Act” tweeted this week with a picture of a blue lota with the Netflix hit show’s logo splashed across it.

Comedian Jo Koy, who is part Filipino, also posted a “PSA” on the tabo, asking his fans — I’m paraphrasing here — why they would wipe, when they can wash.

I’m sure my advocating for the lota, even with a pinch of humor, will rattle a few at this frightening, unprecedented time.

Some — perhaps the types to give a death stare to anyone who dares to sneeze or cough while Asian — will accuse me of promoting a very anti-American concept when we’re desperately trying to battle what Donald Trump continually describes as a “foreign” or “Chinese” virus.

I promise I’m not trying to take away your ultra soft cushiony toilet paper.

Everyone has the right to take care of their business in whatever manner they want.

I’m just saying, slow your roll and know that there are a lotta — and a lota — options out there.

Rummana Hussain is an assistant metro editor at the Sun-Times

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