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We are going to talk some dirty business here. So those who might possibly get nauseated by the very thought of unhygienic toilets or some stomach –churning toilet experiences, might want to look away and stop reading from this point on. I am going to share with you some phenomenally outstanding and quite possibly disturbing experiences that I have come across which might eventually result in you throwing up that cookie that you are munching on right now. Don’t say that I didn’t warn you.
So we made a pit stop to have breakfast at a very famous and very popular restaurant in my home town. After relishing some delightful food, we made enquiries as to where the toilets were. The waiter told us that the toilet was outside the restaurant. We went out and saw that what he was referring to was nothing more than a makeshift shed made with corrugated metal sheet. Though we were appalled to find such an arrangement in such a reputable eatery, we didn’t want to jump to any conclusion. We still hoped to find a nice, neat little toilet inside given that the restaurant looked clean and tidy. Surprise, surprise! We had just walked right into that which nightmares are made of. Stinking bathroom (“stinking” is just an understatement just in case some of you might be eating/drinking something right now while reading this, thank you!), the filthiest toilet bowl (euphemism yet again), the shriveled remains of a pretty large spider hanging precariously at the brim of the toilet seat; bits, pieces and droplets of human excreta on the seat and beneath it, a non-functional faucet in tune with the rest of the decor- totally unhygienic and insanitary (Psst…what were you expecting?) Yes, the floor has to be wet always in such scenarios where you have to make yourself believe that what you are stepping on is merely water and not someone else’s urine. There was however a bucket and a mug, thankfully. Since you are already inside, you decide to “go” but the task turned out to be more arduous than you thought. You cannot sit, nor can you stand. Neither do you want your skin nor your clothes to make actual contact with the edges of the toilet seat. You complete the mission somehow but now you need to touch that mug and that brownish looking water in the bucket. This predicament and inner dilemma makes you realize how lucky and privileged you are in life. Be it shopping malls, restaurants, public places, hospitals or anywhere for that matter, what awaits us are that most uninviting toilets. If you do happen to come across a pretty decent bathroom, you are bound to find a couple of droplets of numero uno on the toilet lid. That’s the norm around here. Coming back to the discussion about the restaurant, after talking with the security guards we learnt that it is the same bathroom used by the restaurant staff including the chefs. I leave the rest to your imagination.
What really irks me is that even the toilets in many franchises of world renowned multinational eateries (known for their hygienic food and clean toilets) , can be often seen in the most deplorable conditions in India. The toilets are not well maintained at all because that’s not a priority for anyone- the owners, the employees or even the users. We leave it as we find it! Once I made a request to clean the toilet at a fast food outlet and the manager looked at me as if he has never heard the words before. He gave me the “nobody has a problem with that toilet, what’s your problem”look! Because I understood that they were not going to do so, I cleaned the toilet myself. I do not have much of a problem and I am not easily disgusted with such “sights or smell” thanks to hostel life. But, I do strongly believe that all of us are entitled to better toilets and facilities. Why do multinational corporations lower their standards when it comes to us? Is it because we are willing to compromise much? Don’t you think that we deserve any better?
Now, defecation and urination are primary bodily functions like eating or sleeping and toilets are pretty much the breeding grounds for bacteria and all that nasty stuff. But we gotta go when we gotta go! Nevertheless, the reason why I have decided to pen something about these personal and privy processes is because of the obnoxious, most revolting surroundings that we are compelled to be in, to get the jobs done. We all know it and quite frequently think about, but we continue to force ourselves to do it in unhygienic conditions, all the time!
By now we women, especially, have made ourselves adroit at many unconventional defecation postures. Oh no, I am not talking about squatting or sitting or even semi-squatting. We invent different unique postures as and when required. So, the toilet does not have a toilet seat and you have no intention in making any contact between that wet, filthy looking toilet bowl and your precious posterior. Since your calling is pretty intense and heavy duty, you gather your courage and decide to go for it. In this particular scenario, you improvise something between a full squat and a semi squat. You get the job done, heave a sigh of relief and reach for the flush tank. In that moment, you make yet another realization that there is not a single drop of water in the flush tank. Yes! And no, faucets never work in this part of the world. Yup, they are just there and serve no purpose whatsoever. In very rare instances that they do work, they efficiently undertake the job of a water sprinkler that you won’t have to shower later. However thanks to all the good Karma that you have meted out, you might find a couple of mugs of water in a slimy bucket which indisputably looks like the birthing place of some vile alien owing to that film of mucous-like substance that both the bucket and mug are covered in. Sorry aliens, no offense! It’s not a clean job but given the circumstances, you know that you tried your best to salvage the situation. I mean, some water is better than no water at all. You take the walk of shame out of the toilet avoiding eye contact with anyone you meet on your way out. Your psyche is screaming out to the world “that was not me y’all. I am not the kind of person who does that kind of thing!” Simultaneously, you are thinking how to disinfect that hand which touched that slithery bucket of God knows what.
Would you still believe that I have come across many open-squat toilets in public restrooms (many open toilets side by side supposedly for peeing only) for women of late? These types of squat toilets have only the platforms and do not have the toilet pans/bowl. All they have is a weird hole in some random corner to drain out any liquid excretory matter. And, in many of those toilets there is no tap and certainly no buckets. What purpose do they serve if there is no water at all? What about privacy? What if someone wants to take a dump? If you are of some possibly contrived opinion that it is such basic common experiences that bring women together or that it was how things were at some glorious point in history; come on! Think about the older women who cannot bend their knees, forget squatting! A while ago we were shooting a documentary film in a remote location when all the girls including myself wanted to use the restroom. There were no restaurants or hotels nearby and the only option was an open squat toilet in a small clinic. We were not mentally prepared to see what awaited us. Dried up faecal matter at different stages of decomposition. There was no water coming out from the taps as well. We went in and ran out almost instantaneously.Why? Just why!
How many times have you walked out of a toilet because there was poop (that did not belong to you of course) in there? The presence of poop can be witnessed (LOL) not just inside the toilet bowls but also on the seat, outside the rim of the bowl, on the floor(an incredible assortment of different sizes and shapes of poopy matter) that leaves you wondering- “how on earth did it get up/down there!”or even “what is that?” How many times have you had to hold back your “bodily urges” because there was pee on the toilet seat and on the floor, thanks to the men who do not lift the toilet seat before peeing and the women/children who prefer to pee on the floor than in the commode.
Years back when I was staying in hostel, one bathroom had to be shared by many girls. Every morning we noticed that someone had managed to get faeces on the toilet seat, toilet lid and on the flush tank! Yes FLUSH TANK! We had no clue how one could get their “dirty-stuff” up there. We tolerated this for a good while. After that we lost our temper and stuck notices inside the bathrooms and in the hostel corridors stating that the culprit will be found out and that individual’s name will be publicly displayed on posters if discovered. We were sick and tired of clean some else’s s*** every morning. If you are thinking that the individual might not have known how to use a Western toilet, let me tell you that there were clear infographics stuck inside the bathroom walls about proper toilet etiquette. Though the culprit was never identified, our plan worked and the bathroom became fit for human use once again.
In yet another hostel, the lights never worked and the toilet bowl was always clogged. But since we couldn’t see what was inside the toilet bowls, we were at peace. Ah, darkness and ignorance were indeed bliss!
How many times have you had to run out of the loo thanks to the reeking, stench of both poop and pee to the extent that you felt like your nasal cavity was on fire? Let’s not even get started about dustbins which are supposedly for disposing toilet paper, sanitary napkins, tampons etc. You will have to psychologically train yourself not to be traumatized for life thanks to the horrific, disturbing things you might find in there. Nope, I do not have the strength in me to describe the kinds of things I have borne witness to in dustbins. Also, you might find yourself in even more luck wherein it might be just an open dustbin (where you can see and smell delightful things without putting much effort) or one where the pedal is broken. In the first instance, you can dump your stuff with your eye closed and run for your life. But in the latter instance, you will have to open the bin with your bare beautiful hands, thereby coming in proximity with the ghoulish object.
While I was in school, I knew many friends of mine who didn’t use the school toilets because of the filthy state of the bathrooms. These girls preferred not going to the toilet at all as compared to having to use the dirty loo. As we know, ignoring the body’s signal to use the loo is a bad idea especially in the case of women. In school we did have “Ayahs” whose job was to clean the toilets. When I was a small child, I used to blame them entirely for the pathetic condition of the toilets. Now that I am a grown woman, I realize that there is a limit to how much others can do to keep the toilets clean. To put it simply, we don’t know how to use toilets, especially European toilets. No, I am definitely not claiming that the condition of the Eastern/Asian/Squat toilets is great either.
Astonishingly, this does not have anything to do with social class or financial status. Many years back, I visited the palatial house of a millionaire along with my family. They even had a fountain in their living room. There were many ushers and attendants welcoming us into each room. They were the most gracious hosts and we enjoyed a lovely meal. The bathrooms were equally opulent in terms of decor but the toilet bowl was extremely dirty as if it was not cleaned for ages. If you are thinking it must have been just a one- time causality, you are wrong! The rest of my family went to another bathroom in the house and had the same thing to say. We realized that keeping the toilets clean was not a priority in that household. It depends on the mind-set of people. For some people, cleaning a toilet just means pouring some water into the toilet bowl. Nonetheless, this does not ensure that the turd is flushed out from the toilet itself. If your argument is that you do so in order to conserve water, you are not making a good point my friend!
What I am trying to say is that this is a topic that is so underrated and always overlooked. As a generation, we should be proud that a large majority of us and our parents acknowledged (perhaps reluctantly) the importance of sex education in schools. Hence sex education has to a certain extent become a part of the academic curriculum than a taboo. At least it has become a topic that is talked about. But quite honestly and very frankly, we don’t know a thing about toilet etiquette or toilet manners. Period! Toilette etiquette has to be taught right from kindergarten. Keeping the toilets clean is not somebody’s job. Oh yes, we need to address the issues and acknowledge the pathetic plight of manual scavengers- that being a topic by itself. Keeping the toilets clean is up to you and me. I am not trying to be condescending. That’s the last thing I want. But if guests were coming over to my home, I would do my very best to keep my bathroom neat, tidy and smelling nice. I want the same thing when someone comes to my country.
We are blessed to be born in a beautiful country which is so geographically and culturally diverse. The Government too has been making great strides in the right direction with the Swachh Bharat Mission. But with so much poverty looming everywhere despite the numerous initiatives, it is still difficult for many to afford to have a bathroom in their homes not to mention keeping it clean with disinfectant, sanitizers, air fresheners etc. That being said and acknowledged, at least the toilets in public places and private institutions need to be kept clean because hygiene should be everyone’s concern- yours and mine. It’s time we clean up our own mess!
I will rest my case now. What do you think? How stinky were your experiences? Can we make toilet etiquette a part of our academic curriculum?
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