I was reading the news about the bathroom controversy in US about sexual predators, and struck by the coincidence that we in India have a similar problem. But unlike the US, where there are plenty of bathrooms, India’s problem is because we have too few bathrooms which forces women to venture out alone into the fields in the dark. This has also led to hygiene problems. So the Indian government has made it a top priority to have bathrooms for everyone.
Life without bathrooms around every corner can be a bit traumatic. Take last week, when I was returning after a visit to my mother. I had taken the overnight bus that would drop me off at 6am after a 10 hour long journey.
Naturally, my mother was very worried I might starve to death during the trip, and insisted I eat a full dinner before I leave. My protests that traveling with a full tummy on India’s infamous, potholed roads might not be a good idea, were met with a hurt look. So tummies were filled, hurt looks banished, and goodbyes said.
The bus was a big Volvo, with air-conditioning, and an upper deck with full length sleeping berth. There was one big issue. I don’t sleep too well on buses. Unlike a train or plane, the irregular motion, the occasional lights flashing through the windows, and the sounds of other passing vehicles, all keep me jerking awake every time I manage to nod off.
But there was another little issue, which was growing bigger by the minute. The AC on these buses are always to set to extra cold whereas it’s warm and humid outside. This soon has the effect of sending me to the bathroom, except that the bus didn’t have a bathroom.
Anyway, I hop off my bunk, and haul my way down the swaying bus, till I reach the driver's cabin. I try to talk to him but I don’t understand his lingo. So I say, “Toilet.” He gives me a curious look, and nods.
I get back to my seat and wait. An hour goes by, and my bladder is now really protesting. Yet there’s no sign of the bus stopping. So I march down the aisle back to the bus driver, close my fist, and raise my little pinkie, which is an Indian universal code for ‘I need to go, NOW!
The driver nods, and keeps driving but I refuse to budge. A gas station shows up in the distance, and I gesture at it to which he replies, “No toilet.”
So I point at the roadside restaurant just ahead of the pump. He shakes his head, and says, “Hotel not allow. They say cleaning. Make me wait half hour. They want business. Passenger go in, eat, drink. They happy.”
“So stop at the next hotel.”
“Next hotel with bathroom after one hour coming.”
But he pulls up at the roadside, opens the door, and says, “Two minutes.”
I hop out, jog over to the roadside, and let it flow. A second passenger joins me. I hear the driver blow his horn, urging us to hurry up, but I ignore him.
As my tormented bladder empties, the intense relief makes me feel lightheaded.
So I tell the guy peeing beside me, “You know, in India, we have a problem of not having bathrooms. But in the US, they have a problem of having bathrooms. So whose problem is more problematic?
He yawns, and replies, “Who gives a piss?”