In 1909, arising out of a desperate situation, Okil Chandra Sen wrote this letter to the Indian Railways:
Whether or not his letter or the following situation had the Indian Railways smacking a tiny chamber hole between boggies remains a mystery.
I’ve used the Indian railways for as long as I can remember. My father’s privileges as a railway employee gave us free rides across the country every year.
Thanks to these little perks, I began rail yatra when I was eight years old! So that sort of puts me in a distinguished place to recount my years as a faithful rail traveler. I can tell you with absolute certainty that much has changed since the 1980s.
While change is inevitable, there are also certain things as stubborn as a mule. In some other context, such stubbornness and determination would yield great achievements, but not in the context of a toilet. Look at it (actually, don’t since you might gag), we’ve maintained some steadfast dedication to stinking, dirty toilets. If we want to assign names of Greek gods to folks who can aim right while the wheels spin, then by golly you are a Greek God of all sorts.
If you’ve traveled by train, which most of us have, then you know how this rolls. If you haven’t, you’ve missed one heck of an experience. You thought six-flags has it down for the best roller coaster ride? I’ll laugh that loud, guttural laugh now…muahahaha. No! The craziest of all rides are inside the Indian railway toilet in a superfast express with your pants down! There…I said it.
If you are a woman, it’s a nightmare, but if you are a man, then it’s apocalyptic. The collateral damage is determined by the attire you wear (read my earlier post on wardrobe malfunction). Take, for instance, the sari…Your squatting expertise will determine your choice of Indian or Western (oof..so many choices). Upon entering the toilet, it’s like a bar scene…bottoms up! You immediately hold the bottom of the sari up for fear of getting it wet. If it’s a salwar-kurta or leggings-kurta, then the problem is further compounded since you have to preen over your kurta to look past your falling hair and dupatta. You might be saved a lot of trouble if you wear pants, but nothing can save you if you are not a sure-footed person, if you know what I mean.
Sure-footed or not, what stares you in the eye next is near catastrophic. Why? Because once you get over the nervousness and paranoia of how to navigate this mysterious test of agility, balance and precision (feel like a tight-rope artist ?), you need to figure out where or what to hold. The confusion arises when you begin to look for a spot that is potentially germ free. Here’s where men make a grand entrance.
I’m not a man but I can only fathom the challenge of the flow in a moving locomotive. On a normal day, I have a horrendous time telling my ten-year-old that he cannot act like the sprinkler in the garden when he uses the toilet, but who ever listened to their mom, right? So I can’t imagine what it’s like for a man inside a rail toilet.
Perhaps the feeling is akin to where you aim for the bullseye on the dart board, but hit the wall instead. You know where you want to go but nothing in your humane power will let you get there. Reminds one of the scene where the Terminator holding the Beretta splays the T-1000 to smithereens. Precision is not for the directionally-challenged! Do I hear a groan? Come now, the number of times you’ve heard your mother, sister, girlfriend, wife tell you to aim right so she doesn’t have to clean-up after you, doesn’t ring true?
The funniest of all is when people wait in line outside, and the one who used the toilet steps out and no one, and I mean no one, wants to be anywhere near a two mile radius of the person who just made the exit. The avoidance techniques are worthy of full-length academic papers. There is the À la seconde, where the expectant waiter steps to the side or the Cambré, where the waist bends in all sorts of direction–forwards, backwards and sideways. Considering such precise ballet moves, one would think the same can be accomplished once inside the confines of the dreaded four walls. But, alas!
In the days when you could not count on a public toilet facility, an English woman was planning a trip to India – She registered to stay in a small guest house owned by the local schoolmaster. She was concerned as to whether the guest house contained a WC (Water Closet). She wrote to the schoolmaster inquiring of the facilities about the WC. The school master, not fluent in English asked the local priest if he knew the meaning of WC. Together they pondered possible meanings of the letters and concluded that the lady wanted to know if there was a “Wayside Chapel” near the house. That the letters could mean a bathroom, never entered their minds. So the schoolmaster wrote:
I take great pleasure in informing you that the WC is located 9 miles from the house. It is located in the middle of a grove of pine trees, surrounded by lovely grounds. It is capable of holding 229 people and is open on Sundays and Thursdays. As there are many people expected in the summer months, I suggest you arrive early. There is, however, plenty of standing room. This is an unfortunate situation especially if you are in the habit of going regularly. It may be of some interest to you that my daughter was married in the WC, since she met her husband there. It was a wonderful event. There were 10 people in every seat. It was wonderful to see the expressions on their faces. My wife, sadly, has been ill and unable to go recently. It has been almost a year since she went last, which pains her greatly. You will be pleased to know that many people bring their lunch and make a day of it.
Others prefer to wait till the last minute and arrive just in time! I would recommend that your ladyship plan to go on a Thursday, as there is an organ accompaniment. The acoustics are excellent and even the most delicate sounds can be heard everywhere. The newest addition is a bell which rings every time a person enters. We are holding a bazaar to provide plush seats for all since many feel it is long needed. I look forward to escorting you there myself and seating you in a place where you can be seen by all.
With deepest regards,
No wonder the woman never visited India!!!