Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Where do you go when you need to go


Let me be honest, I prefer to be in the accessible range of a clean toilet if I am stepping out of my house. My friends will vouch for it. A No. 1 job is manageable but for a No. 2, I would rather go home. Why is it that most of these commonly and genuinely necessary facilities are either not available in a public setting or not in a usability state for even the remotely hygiene conscious.

I remember, as a child I was often asked to use the bathroom before we stepped out. Be it to go to the movies or to a fair or even a train journey. And the reason would always be that there may not be toilets available in which case one has to hold till one comes back home or .....well let's just not say it.

So all these years I have religiously followed the motto "drain before you get into a train" before I step out of the house. It has served me well. I still do so. However on my visits abroad, which are not many, I have relaxed my own rules as the availability of the aforesaid facilities is high with a good level of hygiene and so I do not worry much as to what I eat and therefore where I go.

Anyway coming back to the subject, it has always intrigued me as to why there are no toilets or facilities in public places to relieve oneself. Is there no statutory requirement that there should be such facilities wherever humans are likely to visit. And even if made available there would invariably be no water or they would be in a state of compete disrepair. On a recent visit to a national park within the city, I discovered that the facilities within your reach had either no roof or no water or were locked. Locked, as I was told by a municipal guard, to avoid misuse which for some reason is considered worse than being in use. I think the authorities wanted all visitors to communicate directly with nature whenever she called. Why bother with a via media and affect the quality of transmission.

Visit any old commercial building or public office and you will find these place bereft of toilets. So where do the staff go when they have to go. Well everyone uses the wall behind the building would be a common reply. I have not checked as to where the women staff go but I know a friend who made friends with the employees of a neighbouring bank and would visit the branch whenever she required. Have things changed over the years. I am not so sure. My first job was in a firm with its office in a really old building which just had one common gender non-specific toilet block on every floor for all the offices on that floor. Being an old building, there was no room for expansion and there was no water storage facility. It was as good as not being there. As I moved jobs to a well known company who had its offices in a relatively new building, I expected a better situation. But that was not the case. For the roughly 200 employees on the floor, there was exactly one set of toilet each for the men and women. The men's room had 2 urinals and one potty stall and one wash basin in roughly an area of 40 square feet. At rush hour which was usually around lunch time it would take a while just to gain entry. The ladies room was even worse. There would be a queue of women standing outside waiting for the door to open. I remember my senior, a lady, who would make umpteen rounds to the ladies room waiting for a chance to get it. Once she even had the security guard stand outside and to call her the moment the earlier occupant stepped out.

As building and overall construction gets fancier, are architects factoring in more and better toilets and facilities. I don't think so. The only thing improving is that toilet fittings are getting fancier. In fact the installations are more of a designer kind. Whether they provide greater functionality or practicality is highly debatable. It would not be wrong to say that more functional toilets can be built in the cost incurred for the designer ones.

That brings me to the point that how do architects or planners measure the requirement for fitting some basic facilities. Do they ever consider the number of persons that are likely to be occupying or visiting a particular place.

Where the government is encouraging construction of toilets in villages, why are cities being ignored. Do real estate prices dictate what can be built and what can be done away with.

I have a friend who actually visits toilets at every job interview he goes to. His logic is simple. If he is to spend more time in the office than at home it better be comfortable. And the condition of the toilet will reflect the company's attitude towards employee care.

To me it is clear that toilets are always an afterthought in this nation. So what if you get UTI, toilets are still a cost center.

Next time toilet etiquette and manners, yeah right!

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