Sunday, 8 December 2013

Of the Un-usability of Toilets


In my earlier post I touched upon the issue of non-existent or existing but unavailable or unusable public facilities. In continuation I will move to the other equally larger issue of the inability to use public restrooms despite close proximity of access, in a state of unlock and well sheltered with ample supply of aqua. What I will not discuss is the primary issue of maintaining toilets even if you are willing to pay per use.
It is said that you should leave your newspaper and the bathroom in a state that you would expect it to be when you need it. Therein lies the problem. Neither will you get your paper crisp with all sections in place nor will you ever get the bathroom dry and clean unless you are the first one in line or at home..well maybe.
My focus will only be on out of home facilities frequented by the general public whether municipally maintained or in the private confines of corporate headquarters. What you do in your home is entirely your private business though most tend to reflect that in public settings as well.
If I were to list the reasons for the inability to use the toilet, it would mostly be wet floor, wet seat, soiled seat or incomplete disposal of solid waste by the previous occupant followed by broken lock or lack of paper or wet paper. You may tolerate a wet floor but in no case you are going to go through the pain of wiping the seat unless things are going south at a rate just near to the speed of sound and there is nothing else available. In any case desperation will dictate what you do and what you can't.
The crux to me lies in the fact that more than half of this nation's population is growing up without toilets and therefore no one is really trained to use one. As rural moves to urban or becomes urban, habits also move but unfortunately do not reform or adapt to the changed environment. For a population used to squatting in the open fields, it is difficult to adopt a closed and private setting with the additional responsibility of disposing your own mess. You may have even seen government advertisements asking women not to marry into a family whose house does not have a toilet attached. With a larger stress on western styles especially in cities, it is even more difficult. To find foot prints or shoe marks on the toilet seat is not uncommon. Manners and Etiquettes, even if they do exist, do not matter.
While squat toilets provide for a water tap and a "mug" chained to the tap most western settings will have a roll of paper hanging on the side wall. This itself is an alien concept and causes fear in a population likely to tread on western shores. It's a mutual feeling as most westerners find the idea of using water instead of paper revolting.
Squat toilets, however they may be looked down upon, will not have any part of your body touching anything that has had previous contact with some other's body. Though in a corporate setting, it's a wee bit difficult to use one wearing a suit.
I remember reading an article in a tabloid many years back written by a highly aggrieved gentleman who was complaining of five star hotels with western installations providing only paper and no water. He found it to be highly un-Indian especially on Indian shores. He further went on to add how difficult it was to haul oneself on to the wash basins and make use of them well against their primary intended use. I found it hilarious.
A solution to our aforementioned gentleman's problem soon arrived in the form of rubber/plastic or metallic tube attached to a tap at one end with a lever driven nozzle cum spray head at the other. Technically it is called a Personal Hygiene Faucet and popularly called a jet spray. Call it by whatever name, it has gained immense popularity and leaves one with a squeaky clean feel. But this one too has its own set of issues. Manageable issues which can at times leave you drenched as well. Weak water pressure leaves you uneasy and high water pressure may leave you with wet pants. If the water is too cold or too hot it makes you hesitant but you have no other option. A scary issue is whether the nozzle went too close to some body part and left some unwanted residue on it.
I will close with an incident that happened a few years back. I had to use the facilities in my office. Since it could not be avoided till I reached home, I quickly made my way to the men's room. Under self imposed rules of etiquette, I will always occupy a stall or urinal next to an empty one. However that day out of the three stalls, the one in the middle was occupied leaving me with no choice but to enter either of the end ones. No sooner had I settled down, I heard the sound of spraying water. This was followed by the sounds of water being splashed and slapped. A sound usually heard at Dhobi Ghats. As I looked down the side wall which was open a foot from below, I could see water dripping all along the edge. It looked like the toilet version of the scene from the movie Psycho where the murder takes place in the bathtub and blood trickles down the tiled walls. I had no intention to know what was happening in there and who the culprit was.
It must have been my quickest exit.

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