A Guide to Health/Part 1/Chapter 4

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A Guide to Health  (1921) 
Mohandas K. Gandhi, translated by A. Rama Iyer
Water
S. Ganesan pages 25-29

Chapter IV

WATER

As has been already pointed out, air is the most indispensable to our subsistence, while water comes next in order. Man cannot live for more than a few minutes without air, but he can live for a few days without water. And in the absence of other food, he can subsist on water alone for many days. There is more than 70% of water in the composition of our food-stuffs, as in that of the human body.

Even though water is so indispensable, we take hardly any pains to keep it pure. Epidemics are as much the outcome of our indifference to the quality of the water we drink, as of the air we breathe. The drinking of dirty water very often produces also the disease of the stone.

Water may be impure in either of two ways,—by issuing from dirty places, or by being defiled by us. Where the water issues from dirty places, we should not drink it at all; nor do we generally drink it. But we do not shrink from drinking the water which has been defiled by ourselves. River-water, for instance, is regarded as quite good for drinking, although we throw into it all sorts of rubbish, and also use it for washing purposes. We should make it a rule never to drink the water in which people bathe. The upper portion of the river should be set apart for drinking water, the lower being reserved for bathing and washing purposes. Where there is no such arrangement, it is a good practice to dig in the sand, and take drinking water therefrom. This water is very pure, since it has been filtered by passage through the sand. It is generally risky to drink well-water, for unless it is well protected, the dirty water at the top would trickle down into the well, and render the water impure. Further, birds and insects often fall into the water and die; sometimes birds build their nests inside the wells; and the dirt from the feet of those who draw water from the well is also washed down into the water. For all these reasons, we should be particularly careful in drinking well-water. If it should be pure, the tubs should be washed clean at frequent intervals, and should be kept covered; we should also see that the tank or well from which the water is taken is kept in good condition. Very few people, however, take such precautions to keep the water pure. Hence the best way of removing the impurities of the water is to boil it well, and, after cooling it, filter it carefully into another vessel through a thick and clean piece of cloth. Our duty, however, does not end with this. We should realise that we owe a duty to our fellowmen in this matter. We should see to it that we do absolutely nothing to defile the water which is used for drinking by the public. We should scrupulously refrain from bathing or washing the water which is reserved for drinking; we should never answer the calls of nature near the banks of a river, nor cremate the dead bodies there and throw the ashes after cremation into the water.

In spite of all the care that we may take, we find it so difficult to keep water perfectly pure. It may have, for instance salt dissolved in it, or bits of grass and other decaying matter. Rain water is, of course, the purest, but, before it reaches us, it generally becomes impure by the absorption of the floating matter in the atmosphere. Perfectly pure water has a most beneficial effect on the system; hence doctors administer distilled water to their patients. Those who are suffering from constipation are appreciably benefitted by the use of distilled water. Many people do not know that water is of two kinds, soft and hard. Hard water is water in which some kind of salt has been dissolved. Hence, soap does not readily lather in it, and food cannot be easily boiled in it. Its taste is brakish, while soft water tastes sweet. It is much safer to drink soft water, although some people hold that hard water is better by virtue of the presence of nutritious matter dissolved therein. Rain water is the best kind of soft water, and is therefore, the best for drinking purposes. Hard water, if boiled and kept over the fire for some half an hour, is rendered soft. Then it may be filtered and drunk.

The question is often asked, "When should one drink water, and how much?" The only safe answer to this is this: one should drink water only when one feels thirsty, and even then only just enough to quench the thirst. There is no harm in drinking water during the meals or immediately afterwards. Of course, we should not wash food down with water. If the food refuses to go down of itself, it means that either it has not been well prepared or the stomach is not in need of it.

Ordinarily, there is no need to drink water; and indeed, there should be none. As already mentioned, there is a large percentage of water in our ordinary articles of food, and we also add water in cooking them. Why then should we feel thirsty? Those people whose diet is free from such articles as chillies and onions which create an artificial thirst, have rarely any need to drink water. Those who feel unaccountably thirsty must be suffering from some disease or other.

We may be tempted to drink any kind of water that we come across, simply because we see some people doing it with impunity. The reply to this has already been given in connection with air. Our blood has in itself the power of destroying many of the poisonous elements that enter into it, but it has to be renewed and purified, just as the sharp edge of a sword has to be mended when it has been once employed in action. Hence, if we go on drinking impure water, we should not be surprised to find our blood thoroughly poisoned in the end.