My most memorable loo story is at Madame Tussaud’s. A Canadian woman accosted me after I came out of the facility with, “Are you Indian?”
“Oh, I am surprised. I did not know Indians flushed…”
“What?” I gasped as I stood near the wash basin.
“I hear that Indians do it in the street.”
“Who told you?”
“My brother – he is a professor and has travelled to India.”
“It seems there is a lot left to his education.”
On the way down (she insisted on not letting go off me), she tried to tell me about yoga and other such exotic stuff and then she took me to a group of people – her family and friends. I was beginning to feel like an exhibit. She introduced me to her father. “You know dad she is from India…”
My anger was simmering, so I addressed the gentleman: “Sir, are you not surprised that I do not pee in the streets?”
There was a group of Sikhs at the next table and one sardarji gave me the most beautiful balley-balley smile.
A few years ago, there was a report of an Indian who wrote to the municipal corporation in Mumbai demanding that licences of five-star hotels be revoked because commodes in their washrooms have only tissue paper and no water.
In his letter of complaint, he said: “The absence of water jets and bidets is unhygienic and also against the Indian lifestyle. Even in foreign countries and at international airports, they have Indian-style toilets to suit Indian tourists. However, shockingly, in Indian five-stars we don't get such a facility even though we pay high prices…If you need to clean up, you either have to get into the bath tub or climb on to the wash-basin, which, as you will appreciate, is quite inconvenient. We are Indians. We prefer water over tissue. So we should be given the option by these hotels.”
While I find the idea of anyone getting into the bathtub or the wash basin to clean up after ablutions disgusting, I know that it is a major scatological issue that can divide the world. Who will tell you this aspect of Indian culture? The jug is a huge obsession. Increasingly, handy sprays are used. In Pakistan they call them ‘Muslim shower’, and I wonder what religious significance it can have. It spurts out water just as anything else.
I confess to being a diehard ‘water baby’. My earlier travels overseas used to be filled with dread. The first time I boarded an international aircraft, I sat cross-legged for most of the nine-hour journey. But thirst and hunger cannot be kept at bay…so I could not continue to pretend I was Sharon Stone for long. I stood in that tiny cubicle that planes think are conducive to bowel and bladder movement and discovered the power of invention.
Sight-seeing trips, especially at sites like museums, usually have long queues in the ‘ladies’. I always believed women were cleaner, but seeing sanitary towels carelessly dumped outside bins and tissue rolls on the floor, I am not too sure.
Indians, however, can be quite terrible themselves. The use of water does not necessarily mean that everyone is hygienic. At Indian airports, there is a bucket overflowing, the taps are open and the floor is a mix of urine and water. The seat is often muddy, the reason being that those fools squat on that with their dirty footwear. How they manage the feat is beyond me.
A friend told me that one should not sit on the seat. “Just pretend to, a few inches off the seat and finish it off.”
If you look the ‘westernised’ type then the attendant – oh, we have those here too – will hand over a bit of toilet roll to you, and when I say bit I mean a bit: it is exactly a six-incher. And then when you return, to your embarrassment, you are handed another six-incher to wipe your hands.
Of course, the great put-down is to say something has been used as toilet paper. Dolly Parton once said, “My aunt in Knoxville would bring newspapers up, which we used for toilet paper. Before we used it, we'd look at the pictures.”
Ah, and I look at meself in the jug of water?