Wednesday, September 19, 2012


Our parents inculcated in us the habit of visiting the bathroom before we went out...a habit which has carried right into our adulthood. A question of practicality, then and now.... bathrooms are not conveniently positioned and reachable in the most urgent of situations.  For the male of the species large expanses of open spaces provided ample scope for bladder spurts. Today those very spaces have shrunk leaving the men no alternative but to look around.
During our various travels round the world, it  one did not have to rush to the toilet just when we were about to leave. The number of toilet signs one read posted were heart warming. Every mall had a loo, so we could spend hours loafing,  comforted by the thought that a clean bathroom was at hand.
Did you know that the toilet with the flush cistern is only about 100 years old, and it was considered then, one of the marvels of modern technology and a simple way of removing human waste!  About 60-70 years ago old homes had to use improvised methods where conservancy workers removed human waste from outside the toilet.
The California Institute of Technology in the US won first prize for a solar powered toilet which breaks down water and human waste into hydrogen gas for use in as fuel, in a competition for next gen toilets to improve sanitation in developing countries. It was a challenge set by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation which required designers to develop a new sanitation model which hardly changed since Alexander Cummings developed it more than 200 years ago.
What is the universal name for bathroom? What we called bathroom became toilet because you did your toilet there and placed your toiletries, which you used after a bath. When we travelled outside India there were other names to boot. You had to enquire where the restrooms were...did one rest there?  Or were they washrooms, certainly you didn’t go there just to wash, on the other hand in a dry bathroom there is no water.  And then of course there is the loo which rolls off on your tongue. 
The most valuable invention is the health faucet, and God bless the inventor whoever he may be. I remember encountering it for the first time years ago at an actor friend’s place and she had already christened it “bum shower”.  The bidets are there, but are certainly not so effective. And you have the “Hindustan commode” where one squats and presumably the most hygienic, and very popular in France. The European commode widely popular which you considered a private throne, and the reinvented Anglo Indian commode which had dual purposes, a cross between the two.
About ten years ago we visited Manila and were out on a picnic with our hosts.  We wished to make a beeline to the bathroom.   None of the locals could understand our needs. We tried every trick in the book, gesturing wildly as the urgency to find one increased by the minute. At long last when we mentioned restroom, some kindly soul pointed to a small lone building at a distance, but not too bad as the end was in sight. Since I reached first, I gingerly opened the door which creaked in an eerie manner and entered a dusty room. Lo and behold, right in the centre of the room which was about  8’ x 8’ was a potty, thankfully with a seat cover. When I looked around, there was no wash basin in sight, no tap no water, no flush. Mercifully I had some wet wipes in my handbag which I had the sense to carry, but my Indian habits die hard and I couldn’t wait to get home!
Which reminds me...why does every five star hotel boast of not just spotless toilets but ones devoid of water?  After all the hotels are based in India where almost every Indian likes to wash however large or small the usage might be.  Can’t they have a health faucet?   If  I have  dinner at a 5 Star restaurant, and I need to go to the loo,  I have become smart enough to carry my glass of water with me..  Sometimes I lament the fact that my parents inculcated the cleaning-with-water routine even for small jobs!  Why do the men get off scot free?
Most public toilets in India are deplorable and either you brave them holding your nose and gingerly stepping over puddles or risk urinary infection. Each time you board Air India aircrafts the smell of dank urine reminds you that you are heading home.  Travel first class in the train and you still are confronted by dirty toilets, even dirtier toilet seats, and the balancing act is quite dangerous when you are rhythmically rocking with every move of the train.  Please can we have those disposable plastic seat covers which slip on every time you use the flush! If you are very fussy, cut a wad of old newspapers in the shape of a toilet seat, but don’t forget to cut a largish opening in the centre!!!

And remember, if you have to go, you have to go....

18 August 2012