I used to think I march with modernity. Turns out I don’t: I fail the soap test.
Following in the footsteps of my grandmother (who loved Yardley’s English Lavender), grandfather (Mysore Sandal), mother (Pear’s) and father (Brut’s Soap on a Rope), I still use bar soap. I can’t help it, my right hand—willy nilly—pushes past the bottles of bodywash and gels and scoops up the bar as soon my left hand turns on the shower.
Unlike my elders, I don’t have any brand partiality. When I was small, like most kids of my time, I used Johnson’s baby soap—or rather my parents used it on me. (I remember being fascinated by how adroitly they wielded the slippery white object. Every time I tried it, the soap seemed to leap out of my small hands and slip sliding away, like a Paul Simon song.) When the time came for me to replace Johnson’s with a ‘grown up’ soap, I dithered. I didn’t know what I wanted and since I had no particular preference, I jumped from one brand to the other like an unfaithful lover. My decisions were based purely on looks—of the wrapper, and whatever fragrance crept through it.
I liked the adventure of it; the novelty of unwrapping a new soap as if were a surprise present from a friend. I’d roll it in my hands, hold it under the water to see how much it lathered, raise it to my nose to breathe in the scent. Some were lovely, redolent of roses and other fragrant flowers; others made the bathroom reek like a carbolic acid factory or, worse, rotten eggs.
As time went by, artisanal soaps emerged, of varying shapes, textures and flavours. I couldn’t have been more delighted. My soap-hopping gained momentum. One month, I’d find myself with a hunk of musk; the next month among a clutch of delicate daisies. Crafted piece by piece, the soaps looked so good and smelled so delicious, I almost didn’t want to use them.
Till the Noughties arrived, and doctors stripped the bars of their clean credentials. We had already been told that our toothbrush contained 100 million bacteria or more, including E. coli and Staph. Now the docs declared that bar soaps too were a wet-bed of harmful microbes and advised us to start using liquid washes instead to minimize the risk of spreading harmful bacteria.
A recent poll around my office and the store where I get my provisions tells me that almost everyone is complying. Everyone young, that is. They’ve all hit the bottle. It’s us oldies that are still getting into a lather over giving up our bars. Part of it could be the price: gels are more expensive and finish faster (thanks to all the wasteful squirting). But mostly, I think, a good scrub with a bar of soap just feels more wholesome and clean to us. And when we want bubbles, we open the Dom Perignon.