May 21, 2008

Relieving the Past

There are very few pleasures that match the joy of freeing oneself of a burden under the open sky; of pulling a vehicle over and emptying the tank; of creating intricate patterns against a wall and initialing them; and of creating a personal waterfall for a moment in time.

"Every sweet has its sour; every evil its good." -Ralph Waldo Emerson

The happiness that is derived from performing this liberating act must be tempered with a sense of social responsibility and profound shame. My friend James once described the horror he felt when he accidentally witnessed someone "pinching a loaf" for the first time on a Bangalore sidewalk. The trauma of being an unwitting spectator to the deed can sometimes leave a lifelong scar. On instances when the public good or personal modesty must be taken into account, privacy is desired. The noble origins of the water closet can be traced to this requirement.

If washroom facilities are within easy reach, there is no cause for concern. When there is nothing as far as the eye can see or the nose can smell, that is when the urge to purge rises to the top of to-do list. Agonizingly cruel "TO/LET" signs advertising empty flats available for rent fill the vision of an emergency bathroom seeker, as he frantically looks for a public restroom. In Europe, the "pay-to-pee" concept is quite popular and most people do not mind putting down a few euros for the privilege. But in India, an "anywhere, anytime" mentality exists, primarily among the male segment of the populace. Pay-per-use bathroom compounds do exist in larger cities or near tourist attractions. Usually, an attendant will charge an entrance fee and be responsible for its upkeep. Sometimes, imitation guards man free public bathrooms and collect a few rupees from unsuspecting bathroom goers, but that is the least of their worries.