August 20, 2014 at 9:15 AMAug (Friends, Literature, Musings, Poetry, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

When the trailer of Vishal Bharadwaj’s new film, Haider was released, there were several friends on Facebook who shared it with the most famous quote from Hamlet, “To Be or Not To Be.” After having watched the trailer and being thrilled, a memory of something I had seen almost ten years ago, surfaced in my mind. It was in the gent’s washroom of a college that I had seen, the graffiti reading, “To Pee or Not To Pee,” which had amused me the way Haider’s trailer did. The memory of “To Pee or Not To Pee,” flushed out “To Be or Not To Be,” for a while and I got thinking of Latrinalia.

1Latrinalia or restroom graffiti interests me, like it interests most of us. The most interesting thing for me about Latrinalia, other than the content, is that I have never seen any graffiti being written in the washroom. When I asked some friends if they had seen anyone writing graffiti, all the answers were negative. Latrinalia, to that extent, has some folk-ish elements. Though, none of us have seen anyone attempt it, we have all met innumerable Rakesh, Mukhesh, Dinesh in the various public latrines that we have visited. One, I can recollect is, “Rakesh was here.” It is like marking the territory. If dogs mark their territory by urinating, we mark our territory in the space where we urinate by writing our names. Just like dogs overwrite with urine, we overwrite with words like, “So was Rahul,” or even better, try to puncture the first territory marker with the question, “Did you do something, which others didn’t?”

Writing one’s own name is less in comparison to writing the names of others, especially the loved one or the one who cheated or the one who could not be won. Gent’s loo will have plenty of, “Seema is a slut” or “I love Geeta,” plastered over the walls.

Love and lust find various kinds of expression and these expressions are different in small towns and cities, in the government office loo, and the loo in the educational institutes. Innocent expressions of love like “143” (which stands for I love you) and heart with an arrow,can be seen in only some toilets and lines like, “Your beauty deserves the standing ovation of my dick,”can be seen in others. These graffitis also reveal the kind of people using the loo.

Drawing female private parts is a common sight. Some places, also turn the sketches into biology classes by drawing an arrow and naming the parts. Some get more ‘creative’ and mark arrows to write, “entry” and “exit,” while some specify the size as “36 24 36.” But, interestingly, never have I seen sketches claiming to be that of some film star. It is always some Tina, Meena, Rita or Neeta who is the fancy of restroom graffiti.

Apart from such crass expressions, there are also witty and funny graffitis, which one can find. Straight and forward statements like, “The future of the nation is in your hands,” to instructions like, “Shake well after use,” and “Handle with care,” to re-contextualizing famous songs like, “Nanhe munhe bachche teri mutti mein kya hai?” and advertisements that are hilarious, “Hair fall? Use Vasmol!”

Then, there are motivating graffiti saying, “Aim well,” only to be corrected by somebody else as, “Aim high.” It’s an interesting phenomenon to observe conversations in restroom graffiti where one anonymous man tries to outsmart another. It need not negate the earlier one. It can carry it forward and yet, outsmart the earlier one like, “Don’t test the strength of the wall,” will be outsmarted with, “Else you will receive what you give.”

Such outsmarting can also be an attempt to trying to be profound. In one of the loo, I had seen the ‘profound’ line, “Unshed tears become piss,” trying to outsmart all other “call xxxxxxxx for great sex,” carved on the wall. But, restroom graffiti is not a place for such public-toilet intellectualism. All such attempts will be outmaneuvered and punctured. So it is but natural that under, “Unshed tears become piss,” was the line, “nikaltey hai aansoo rastaa badal badal ke,” (tears change their course and find a way out from different exit doors.)

There are also guys challenging, “Can you draw a straight line with your piss?” trying to be the smartest by posing a challenge. This outsmarting, negating of others and challenging, all speak of the masculine need to be powerful. It is also expressed with small arrows drown in vertical lines, instructing, “Look up” after every arrow, only to end with the line, “Look down. You might have peed on your shoes.”

3When I thought of writing this piece to document some of the graffiti that I had witnessed and remembered, I thought of asking my female friends if there was any graffiti in the ladies toilet too, a question I had not asked any of my female friends before. Most of them answered, “Yes” but hesitated to speak of the kinds of graffiti that were found saying, “I can’t remember.” Though, a couple of them mentioned about the sketches they had seen of male genitals with sperm shooting and dripping and one mentioned of the board ‘Mahilaayein’ with the ‘ma’ struck off to make it ‘hilaayein,’(shake) they agreed that most of the graffiti in the ladies’ restroom were more romantic and less sexual. As I was wondering if it is a sign of the internalized polite ‘feminine’ behaviour, a friend mentioned about one graffiti which read, “Mary conceived without sinning and I want to sin without conceiving,” which kind of challenged my doubt.

In all these years, I have not come across graffiti on homosexuality, BDSM, incest or group sex. Probably, it is just a matter of chance that I haven’t come across them or probably, they are simply less in number. One more area that I have not seen any of is- politics. The only one I saw which had to do something with politics, was extremely disgusting. It was in the library of a medical college. The graffiti was this: A horizontal line was drawn and next to it was written, “If you can pee above this you can join the fire brigade.” Some two centimeters below that was another horizontal line and next to it was written, “These are for SC-STs.” When I mentioned it to my friend studying there, he laughed and his laughter was an indicator of his approval. That got me thinking because what remains on the toilet walls, is something that has approval and general agreement.

Probably, a public toilet is a place where people relieve themselves in more than one way. May be it’s a place which brings out the worst in you in the best way and also the worst way. The famous dialogue from Sholay, “Issmein action hai drama hai tragedy hai,” speaks for Latrinalia too. Also, Latrinalia speaks something about our society and us, which we itch to talk about but do not generally speak about in public. So, maybe, public toilets, which are public and private at the same time, become the perfect space for it all.

[Article originally written for Helpost]

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