Invisible Borders

November 3, 2010 at 9:15 PMNov (Friends, Musings, Slice Of Life)

As i unlocked my arms, moving a step backward, Pankaj said, “I need to urinate. As i was waiting for you people to arrive i was searching for a public toilet. But there is none over here.” As i was imagining the consequences if i had hugged him tightly, he said, “There is no liberty to urinate in these big cities,” and laughed heartily. “We must fight for right to urinate act,” i said and all three of us- Pankaj, Faizan and i, laughed.

While laughing I couldn’t help but think of what another friend Niranjan Kajur had written on his facebook wall recently- “It is better to get used to pee in the open because in India not everywhere you will find toilets.” To this there were a few comments saying, “Go get a life” and screaming “Eeee…” probably out of disgust.

The breaking of flush pipe in the toilet, recently, triggered a discussion on toilets in general at home. Tarique bhai recollected as to how a ‘special instruction’ was given to boys selected for American exchange programme, on how to use toilets in America. The boys were asked to sit and urinate because if they stood while urinating the possibility of spilling over on the ‘seat’ was high. This instruction, as Tarique bhai said, was mainly because in America people themselves clean their toilets and there are no specified workers for the same. The spilling over on the seat was problem even the more because in America, it seems, there is no concept of bucket and mug, which could possibly be used to clean the seat if it gets, dirty. In the absence of bucket and mug, Tarique bhai added, they use tissue papers.

The tissue issue reminded Faizan of a story of his friend, which he started narrating in his own descriptive manner. The journalist friend had been to an ‘elite’ place, in Delhi, for covering a programme. He wanted to use the toilet and entered the toilet in the ‘elite’ building. As he sat on the western style commode to clean his belly he felt relieved for a while but the relief wouldn’t last long for more than a few seconds. He soon found out that there was no bucket or mug nor an extend pipe to wash! The only provision was tissue paper, to which he wasn’t used to. Out of no choice he used the tissue paper to ‘clean’ but couldn’t get up, out of discomfort, because he couldn’t ‘wash’. Finally collecting water in his hand, from the upper edge of the commode, while flushing, he washed himself to
get up comfortably.

Couple of years ago i went to watch a movie (First day first show of Naayi Neralu by Girish Kasaravalli) to a multiplex which was my first visit to a multiplex. During the interval i went to the toilet to urinate and while urinating i found that the hanging commode did not have a knob which had to be turned or pushed to flush. Now, leaving the place without flushing was impossible, thanks to the habit. As i wondered how to flush looking towards my left and right at my neighbours to see how they flush, the hanging commode cleansed itself automatically! Now that was unexpected to me and also something new. I was shocked initially but soon i came out of the shock and started wondering how the hanging commode knew that I was done! With question mark flying around me i walked towards the wash basin to wash my hand. Here again there was no knob to turn or press in the tap for the water to come. Call it my innocence or ignorance, but i waited for the wash basin tap to turn itself on and pour water, like the hanging commode did, realizing my presence before it. The man who came to use the next wash basin stared at me as if commenting on me through his look and that weird smile, “you uncivilized,” which was quite humiliating. But thanks to him for i learnt from him that i need to take my hand closer to the tap for the water to flow. As i washed my hand i suddenly felt that the hanging commode, the tap everything like that stranger laughing at me saying, “You uncivilized.” I could read “This place is not for you,” written in an invisible ink on an invisible board everywhere. I guess Faizan’s friend must have felt the same.

In our college our classroom was the closest to the water cooler and the toilet. Once it so happened that the toilet near our classroom was locked for students by the college management. When enquired we were told that the toilet was ‘reserved’ for the faculty members only and the keys were in the office room. We students were expected to use the toilet which was far from not just our classroom but every classroom. The locking of the toilet annoyed all of us.

One fine day while passing by the toilet i found that someone had left behind on the door of the toilet the keys for the lock. Realising that nobody is around i silently took it and kept it in my pocket. The door was unlocked and free to enter for all. But in a couple of days it was locked again. The office had a spare key. Within a week, by chance, it was i again who found the keys (the second one) left behind on the door. Without delay i took the second key also. This time i knew that the office did not have another key and that now, with both the keys, i was the owner of the toilet. For a moment i thought i will lock the toilet and make all the staff members walk till the other distant toilet. But there were also some old real old faculties, who claimed to be the “youngest member of the institute,” for whose sake i softened my stand and kept the doors open for all.

The ‘only for staff’ approach which also meant ‘not for students’ was just the visible form of the multiplex toilet and the toilet Faizan’s friend had to use. While the earlier locked itself literally not letting the ‘other’ inside the latter one by its very nature kept people out.

In the train that i took in Januray to go to Delhi from Manipal the train coach had provision to charge and discharge at its end. As i was charging my phone, an old lady came to use the toilet. The doors of the train toilet have a different design. It looks as though it is locked, from outside, when it is not and the reverse. So the lady thought someone was inside and hence the door locked, when in actually no one was. She was waiting. Realizing the misunderstanding i opened the door for her. She took at step forward and stopped. She kept looking for a while and took a back step and closed the door. For a while i could not understand why she closed the door even without using it. It was a western style toilet! It had silently locked itself for the old lady. No lock, no keys. She then opened the door of the opposite toilet and on finding that it is of Indian style, she entered.

During our discussion at home, after Tarique bhai and Faizan, Shoaib recollected what Nayeem had told him. Nayeem during his visit to Germany had come across urinals where there were no dividers between hanging commodes! A friend (?) of Nayeem had written, with photographs, about such divider-less urinals referring to them as toilets without borders. But there are so many fences and so many borders, all invisible!!!

24 February 2010

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1 Comment

  1. Meera B said,

    Nice reflections. But do you know that women cant just go in public?
    In older times, women visit fields long before men wake up . Today its okay in the houses but outside, we need to find bushes, walls that block us from public eye and we have no way. Every bus ride is a nightmare. Even the public toilets have their windows with gaping holes and non-lockable doors.
    Forget urinals without borders, we had unisex bathrooms in our hostel and the wash basin areas had open access and the bathing cubicles only had shower curtains…
    Sometimes there fore we need borders and even walls…

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