- Karthik Narasimhan
If you thought my posts were crappy, wait till you read this one:
My first day at the bathroom here. Deed done, I zipped up pants. And then, a sudden gush of water, and my pants got drenched. Sopping, dripping, heart wrenching wet. Yes, I did get the order of events right, Ms. Know-It-All.
Puzzled, I did what every guy does. My carefully tucked shirt came out, and I walked gingerly back. I realize I am smoking hot, but can't these girls stop looking at my pants for some time?
A few more attempts and some more pant wetting before I realized: Stop tucking your shirt in, because the stupid thing will flush whenever the tank is full, doesn't matter if a guy wearing his only pair of Calvin Klein chinos is in there finishing up.
We'd sit around the table eating lunch, or dinner, or smoking cigars or playing poker or doing whatever else a group of people in an alien country can do sitting around a table. We'd start off well enough – how the food sucks, why the affirmative action policy in Malaysia was all twisted, why work blowed and so on … A few minutes was all it took though, for conversation to veer back to our favorite topic: Toilets.
Asian toilets are different from what most people in the West are used to: A hole in the floor, where people do the squatty, followed by washing where the left hand comes into play. And this was a source of endless fascination to everyone: there were most left hand jokes passed around than potato chips. Everyone had a funny story, it seemed.
A steakhouse across the street from where we lived had a restroom that had a bidet instead of a water closet. And to ensure that people knew this, they posted very explicit signs that left no room for any confusion.
It was all good, and I would laugh, of course, but if you listened closely, you could've heard a little bit of guilt.
For the first ten years of my life, a flush toilet wasn't something I had access to that often. We stayed far away from the city so my mom could be close to her school, and while that meant really good food all the time, it also required sacrifices: An insanely long commute, and being stuck in a glorified village masquerading as a suburb, with no television reception, no malls, and no flush toilets. Well, ok, maybe I exaggerate a bit here: There was Murugesan Annachi Kadai which seemed to have all the items in a mega mall squeezed into a hundred square feet, and some of the houses did have flush toilets, but not ours.
Most of the homes were built on one corner of a large plot, while the other corner housed the toilet – a tiny room with an additional wall about a foot from one edge, creating a mini trench on the floor. You sit on the wall and … you know what I mean, right? And every morning, a couple of people would scoop the stuff up into buckets and empty the bucket into a cart, and push the cart several miles to a huge swath of land beside an important road to dump it. This was quaintly named the fertilizer dump – we do have a way with words, don't we?
These people – a mother and her twenty something son called Selva – would always show up drunk, because the alcohol helped them forget the stench, but the alcohol also made them forget to show up for days on end. I also have a feeling their job satisfaction levels were kind of low. And when that happens, absenteeism increases, which results in a proportional increase in the levels of odor in the neighborhood. That would necessitate a visit to Selva's house by a delegation of old people causing him to show up with a sulk for the next few days. But he'd show up nevertheless.
Somehow, we all managed.
And then one day, they closed the fertilizer dump, with no notice. It was inhumane they said – this process of humans removing human waste – and so the best way to combat this menace was to close the dumping ground. That way, news would filter down to the masses and they'll turn humane overnight. If a few people lost their jobs in the process, big deal. So the land was sold to another government department, which then started to build apartments there – I guess they must've advertised it as fertile real estate although I hadn't seen the ads: I was too busy worrying about where my next meal would go to.
We manged for a few weeks by making ad hoc payments to Selva, who had no job now. He would come and remove things clandestinely and then dump them somewhere. The trees in the neighborhood loved him, I am sure. And … I could go on with gory details, but suffice to say that things did turn out well finally.
My dad was able to convince our reluctant homeowner to shell out money for an actual toilet, complete with our own septic system. And Selva married his childhood sweetheart and gave up drinking and made a fortune and built his mom a castle (with a western toilet) and had many kids and lived happily ever after. Oh wait, that was a Tamil movie. In real life, Selva found a job at a brick kiln somewhere.
Then, I was off to college, swearing never to set foot in a dry toilet again. I wouldn't, but what followed was worse.
Suresh wasn't your normal young man: he was into religion, and he reminded us of it constantly. He'd avoid the raitha served in the hostel – onions make people horny, he told me once; and he'd use a wooden plank for a pillow. Clearly, all this made him a very religious person who was not to be messed with.
When he invited me over to his house for a few days, I was more than a little concerned: I asked him all the questions I could think of – if they had normal pillows in their house, if it was acceptable to not pray for several hours a day, and if it was okay that I preferred cooked food. And then we took a bus to his house, which turned out to be an enormous structure located in a picturesque village equidistant from Ooty and Coonoor.
The house was breathtakingly beautiful – it was surrounded by lush green tea plantations on three sides, and there was a stream flowing through the backyard where carrots and strawberries grew. The tea, I was told, is exported all over the world.
We then ate normal food – a lot of it, and then slept on normal beds with normal pillows. And I woke up like normal, and after a quick cup of coffee, expressed a wish to see the toilet. And was told that there was none. “We go to tea estates,” he said, this son of the richest family in the village. The admission had the effect of stunning me into holding back for a good ten minutes.
“Ok, take me there then.”
“Tea estate man, I got to go.”
“Err… sorry, but now is the time for women. You have to wait another half hour before the male window starts.”
And I held, and we went. Strangely, there was a stream right next to where I was, but I don't really know if it was picturesque, because the plants were poking me in the butt, and I felt an incredible urge to moo loudly and pull a cart along. Ok, that line stunk. For all I know, that stream could have been an actual stream, or it could have been that the girls had decided to have a group piss before we got there. Somehow, I must've managed to finish… all I can remember is swearing to never set foot in a tea estate again – you can say what you want about them, but a dry toilet never poked me in the butt, causing me get up and yelp loudly.
I double boil my tea to this day.
While we are at this, might as well take the opportunity to laugh at someone elses expense. I have a friend who I will not name. He was once this idealistic young man who believed in social service, and so volunteered to go build a road at a village near Salem. The party stayed at some school I think.
And this village – kind of more sophisticated than Suresh's village – had one bathroom that they reserved for the womenfolk, and the men were directed to the fields nearby. So my friend, who would soon be a man,went into the fields that morning, with another friend for company.
These two young men believed themselves to be superior to the riffraff that were perched on the outskirts of the field, and what better way to prove their superiority than by heading deeper? So they headed, carrying an open pail filled with water. They picked clean spots, squatted, and began.
A short way into the process, they realized that they had company. Pigs, that believe that human crap is quite unlike revenge and is to be partaken when steaming hot. And on seeing a couple of nice guys dishing it out to them, the pigs rushed toward their food; and the two servers had to relocate rapidly to another spot. And this went on for some time: Sit, shit, get up, run, sit, shit…
And by the time the process came to an end, two things had happened. The pigs were quite full, and the pails were quite empty. This necessitated a desperate cry for help to the riffraff who brought water, and hopefully got a good look. I don't know what type of foodgrain was grown in those fields, but I would strongly recommend double boiling all food, especially if it comes from deep within.