What do I leave my environment at an intimate physical and spiritual level? Born in Mumbai, India, lived in London, Prague and I now reside in Dublin. As I meandered through various geographies, I wondered what my legacy to these various eco-social cultures was.
While taking a bath at my London home, I happened to be scrubbing my skin when I scraped out the answer - my dead skin cells! Fascinated, I collected my dead skin cells that day before rinsing off. And have been doing so at every place that I lived for more than a month ever since.
We humans shed approximately 4000 skin cells every minute, or almost a million a day. Our entire outer layer of skin is replaced every 2-4 weeks at an astonishing rate of 0.001 to 0.003 ounces per hour. Our skin is composed of several layers. The layer we see is called the epidermis. It is composed of cells made of the substance keratin. The individual cells are called keratinocytes. New keratinocytes grow at the lowest level of the epidermis, which bonds with the next layer, the dermis. The new skin cells gradually push their way to the top layer. As they reach the top, they die and are 'weathered' by the environment and our daily activities. The 'dead' layer is called 'Stratum Comeum’. The dead cells break away from the epidermis and fall off, making room for newer cells growing up from below. It takes roughly a month for new cells to get all the way to the top layer. Scientist estimate that the human body is made up of around 10 trillion cells in total and the skin have a staggering 1.6 trillion cells.
Hence, to me the washing of our bodies and this shedding and rejuvenation have an underlying spiritual significance. Despite our lofty political aspirations, fervent religious beliefs, and resolute identifies corresponding to our lifestyles, races, genders and sexual preferences, we cannot escape the transience and the ephemeral nature of the skin cell – and thereby, of life. Amid all our self-delusions, we are unwittingly witness to the most humbling equalizer and rebuttal of our self-aggrandizement - the inglorious accrual of our shed, dead, skin cells in the ignominy, commonality and darkness of the sewage drain.