You got to go, when you got to go!

The elusive Indian public toilet... It is like the Indian rope trick, people have heard about it, but no one has seen it! So what can a woman do, when she's just got to go?

A gentleman inside a ladies toilet! Pic: Anisha Nair

When was the last time you thought you had died and then managed to resuscitate your being? I experienced this painful process very recently.

Here we were going from one place to another, and typically, the way it normally happens—without warning—my bladder started to constrict. This meant that I had to go and I had to go now! This also meant that I couldn’t go anywhere and everywhere I pleased, the reason being that I’m not an Indian dog, neither am I an Indian man. I can’t simply pull over to the roadside and let go. Neither can I look for the nearest tree/wall/barricade/partition etc to relieve myself.

Children using a park to relieve themselves. Pic: Supriya Khandekar

In India, when certain apparatuses were doled out to humankind, it was with the condition that the male species would get a free hand at using or flashing his at his whim and fancy. The female of the species, on the other hand, would be subject to a song and dance routine before she could see the light at the end of the tunnel! And when I say song and dance, I mean it!

When you are controlling your bladder, you start by breathing deeply, tightly pulling in all your stomach and whatever muscles that surround the organ. Then when you are breathing slowly, you try to take small dainty steps. Larger steps only spell disaster! And you have to be nimble-footed through this process… Whilst you are going about this elaborate breathing, yoga and ballet routine, you are expected to continue to make conversation. And it’s a supreme effort not to lop off a few heads who stop you from reaching your desired destination.

I especially find it exasperating when I have to ask for directions to the damn place. Firstly, it’s not everywhere, so the chances of you finding a clean one are slim. Even if you do hear about a clean one, you’ll realise that the route to get to it, is quite complicated. For instance, in my case, we were out the whole afternoon looking for property; so finding a loo at a construction site was close to impossible. Then we drove around looking for a decent restaurant, and that by itself was a daunting task.

Small hotels have these tiny nooks created in a niche, where there’s this constant worry of getting locked in. And if you do make it in, then the place most certainly stinks to high heavens— this is where your pranayama skills come in handy. If you’ve survived so far, the next problem is water. Either there is no water to clean up, or the faucets will be sprinkling their jets all over you, your clothes and generally announce to the whole wide world that you’ve just relieved yourself. Such places are very common and not really the best option! But like I said, when you got to go, you got to go!

The next option we Bangaloreans have are the malls. They are a dime a dozen to boot, but with a sadistic twist. The loos are located at the farthest end of the mall and you have to wade through this sea of humanity that decides to make every step of yours a painful journey. People will stop suddenly in front of your face, nudge you in the ribs, stop you to ask for directions, and every other conceivable block. Imagine, you’re barely breathing at this moment, your insides are so tight, you’re sure you’ll damage a few muscles somewhere and you’re crisscrossing your legs so much that it’s a miracle you’re not on the floor with your face down, and these dastardly people are making a special effort to acknowledge your presence. Any other day at the mall, there aren’t so many people for one, no one really cares you exist, and the loo is literally a store away!

The advantage in the malls is the cleanliness. Despite all the hardships you faced on the way, at least you are assured of a clean toilet, which quite literally welcomes you with its arms open wide. You are in heaven now! 

The third scenario is that you walk in to the nearest star hotel! Here, you will have to look very business-like. Pretend like you’re meeting the President of the US, and weave your way into the washroom. You can’t just walk in to the washroom here. You have to walk down a couple of corridors, walk past the lawns, their poolside, the pubs, a few artifact shops, window-shop a bit, take in the beautiful garden, smell a few roses and walk ever so slowly to the washroom. All this is to ensure that the staff don’t realise your true purpose of getting in.

If you fail to do this, be prepared to face a lot of hostile looks from the security guys who have probably taken a few of your pictures and flagged them under the ‘Casual Loo User’ category of files. So that the next time you sit down to dine, you’ll be conscious of a few contemptuous looks right from the doorman to the steward! Everyone knows your history and they will not forget that you ‘used’ them – you took their carefully polished washrooms for granted, you committed the sin of not using the hotel’s finest boutiques and restaurants before using its washroom. You will probably have to go back to the hotel a couple of times as penance, and not use the washroom for that one act of perjury.

To save myself this trouble, I rarely look at the star hotels. But yes, I’ve committed these crimes before and I carry the guilt in my heart. And when I meet either Ratan Tata or Captain Nair, I shall confess and cleanse my soul.

Jokes aside, this is the sad plight of all women in our country. At least in bigger cities there is hope, but imagine small towns and villages; it’s terrible! Girls get raped when they venture out to perform the very basic act of relieving themselves. Why does a woman have to be tortured like this? When will we see a country built for its women? And when oh when, will a woman be empowered to just go and do it without having to go about the song and dance?

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