Identity is everything in India. Every month or so, some agency or the other will demand copies of identity cards and address proof in triplicate, along with 5 passport photos where at least 20% of your forehead is visible. I recently switched from a pre-paid mobile connection to a post-paid one. I got a call saying I had to submit my documents. “You already have my documents”, I said, “I resubmitted them just last month.” “Maydum”, the man said, “That time you were prepaid customer. Now you are becoming to postpaid”. I told them to simply transfer my records. The suggestion caused much alarm and consternation. “How it is possible, Maydum? You were prepaid customer. Now you are becoming to postpaid.” I persisted. “I still live in the same place. And, as far as I know, I’m still the same person. Use the old documents, no?” There was a brief pause at the other end. “Maydum, you were prepaid customer. Now you are becoming to postpaid.” I sighed and headed to the nearest xerox shop.
I was hoping that this kind of Chinese water-torture would end with the Aadhaar scheme, but alas, recent reports have not been good. Some cards have ended up with odd pictures: an empty chair, a tree, a dog. No one knows how this happened, but I have a theory. It is obvious that the candidates took a quick toilet break while the webcam was being set up.
Now, the lack of public toilets affects everybody in India, but somehow, its most devastating effect is on the Indian male. Indian males are a sensitive species. They hear the call of Nature more frequently, and also feel compelled to answer it more immediately. Now, one’s first instinct is to feel sorry for them. But one should never underestimate their mental strength. Over the years, they have boldly gone where no man has ever gone before. By shaking the dew off their lilies in full sight of men, women, children, and even dogs, they have quietly protested against bizarre concepts like shame, hygiene and public decency. Men, in short, have managed to make their problem a non-issue. Or, as they say in IT, it’s a feature, not a bug.
I feel like it is my duty to explain here how we women deal with this, er, liquidity problem. Firstly, we control ourselves. And we plan. A LOT. This might be a bit too complex for the male mind, but it is possible to draw a correlation between (a) the duration of the journey, (b) the existence of toilets along the chosen route, and (c) the time of the last toilet visit. We write out the equation, multiply it by the universal constant Q, and that gives us the precise amount of liquids that we are allowed to ingest. Of course, these calculations can always go awry. The word toilet is used rather loo-sely by some establishments and, many a time, we are so grossed out that we just cannot do the deed.
At the other extreme from such Indian toilets are the Japanese ones. These are the smartphones of the toilet world. They have little panels that control everything from the temperature of the toilet seat to your favourite ablution music. A few years ago, I was in Singapore and found such a toilet in my hotel bathroom. Since I am a naturally clumsy person, I thought I should learn the thing before using it. Leaning over the toilet, I pressed a button. The toilet seat hummed and warmed up. I pressed another button. The Titanic theme song started to play. My confidence growing, I pressed yet another button. This was a mistake. A little pipe emerged from somewhere and launched a jet of purple liquid soap right at my face. I scarcely had time to recover, when two more pipes started dousing me with water. As the Titanic theme reached its crescendo, I staggered backwards, slipped and fell into the bathtub. Somewhere during all this, the cleaning lady had knocked and let herself in. She found me sitting drenched in the bathtub, purple soap in my hair, and the stupid toilet fountains still running. “Are you OK?” she asked.
Normally, I would’ve been acutely embarrassed. But then I remembered the hordes of Indian men who do their business in public, with quiet confidence. I felt inspired. “I’m fine”, I said, getting up, “I was just listening to some music.”