Saturday, September 13, 2008

Are you a victim of the Horrible Indian Loo Phenomenon (HILP)?

I admit, this one is written with a bit of angst and lots of bundled up irritation. The story begins with the three of us (my editor, a senior colleague and me) taking to the road (by a car) to go to Surat for a meeting. My colleagues made a start at 5.30 in the morning and they reached Baroda at about eight. They picked me up and the car took to the highway. It was a good four and half hours before we would reach Surat, thanks to dug up roads, held up traffic and a tea break. And herein, starts my angst story. You see, it could have been otherwise. The car had an AC which worked, the landscape from our car window, a beautiful picture of rustic India and we had plenty of conversation flowing between us.

But the sob story started as soon as we felt the need to take a 'loo break.' It is, you will agree with us, human to feel the need to use a washroom in a journey that is five to seven hours long. And so, we encountered what I can best describe as the "Horrible Indian Loo Phenomenon (HILP)." We alighted at a reasonably and what looked like the best eatery on the highway and tried to use the loo. I realise that gory details should never be described and so without going into the intricate details, I can say that those loos weren't fit to used. Even a pig living in a pigsty would have said, "I can do better. My slush pond smells better.'

And herein lies my angst. Why can't we get our basics right? Why do washrooms even in swanky malls, eateries, restaurants (those on the highway and those in the city as well) can't adhere to the basic standards of hygiene: running water, clean-litter free floor, a dustbin that is regularly emptied , a soap dispenser that actually has soap in it, commodes or Indian style toilets that are cleaned every two hours or so depending on footfalls?

If we are a culture that prides itself on having "rich traditions, morals and family values" how do we explain our complete disregard for something as basic as providing safe, clean washrooms for our women and children, and yes, I am not leaving the men out; every one deserves a clean washroom. If we proclaim ourselves to be a people who are extremely protective towards their women, how do we again explain the fact that we choose to ignore that women, irrespective of the fact that they are menstruating or not, need a washroom that doesn't bring out "I wish I was never born in India' in them.

Most women, who happen to have their periods while travelling (by a train, bus or car) will vouch for the fact that there are no facilities for them to dispose of a pad (meaning there will be no dustbins or ones that have not been emptied for days together) in the washrooms. For mothers who travel with small children, again, there is no facility to change nappies or dispose off the nappies (absence of a nappy board or a dustbin). Forget wishing for a decent sized mirror in the washroom, we can count ourselves lucky if we stumble across a public washroom which has running water and relatively clean environs!

I am decidedly cranky today, but if I ever emigrate to the US, UK or Australia, one of the reasons would be that, I will, while travelling, eating out or going to a movie, can avail of a washroom that has running water, tissue, soap dispenser, nappy board, fragrant fresheners, clean tiles, and hey, washrooms abroad also stock sanitary napkins dispensers! That will be one of my primary reasons besides the fact that when I go driving on the autobahns or the roads there, there will be no cows, pigs, goats and other inhabitants of a farm running amok, neither will I encounter pits, open drains, dug out lanes or people who ask, "Are you married? No? Still single? Oh ho, how sad. You bechari girl. What are your parents doing, ask them to register you in a marriage bureau. Good thing you earn. How much is that? What is your salary? And, are you an Assamese or Bengali? No? Sindhi perhaps? No? Toh, what else can you be? You are an outsider for certain, hai na?"