A first class AC coupe does not ensure a clean toilet. Within the hour, someone had done their big business for the day, and failed to flush away. The coupe was connected on one side with the second class coach, and on the other side, with the engine room, which did not bode well for sanitary conditions through the journey.
After lunch from miniature sized foil boxes that ensured maximum spillover, I walked into the corridor looking for a dustbin. The attendant said there were no dustbins, I could throw the boxes on the tracks from the gap between the two dabbas. I looked at him incredulously. From behind me, Teja asked, “There are no dustbins in the coach?” He shrugged his shoulders and said, “There is one in your coupe.” He came to the door, and pointed to one, in a dark corner, under the seat. I said, “Then why did you say there were none?” He said, “You asked me if there were any in the coach.”
At night, Teja said, “Use the toilet on the left. The one on the right is being used by the attendant and the people from the engine room to smoke beedis.”
The lobby near the left hand side toilets was covered in daal, banana peels and what-not. The attendant passed me red-eyed, and went off to sleep, waking up only at 10 am the next morning, to collect our blankets and pillows.
Later on our road trip, up into the hills, at Dev Prayag, the toilets were refreshingly clean. In the hills, I went under cover of the forest, mostly. Im Ghimtoli, at Makar’s house, the toilet is outside the house, but spotlessly clean.
Back from Rudra Prayag, at Haridwar, the toilet attendant looked at me sleepily when I walked in. After I had peed, there was no water in the taps, flush or basin. One of the toilets was disgustingly dirty. As I walked out, the attendant opened his eyes wide enough to ask me for money. I scolded him for the state of the toilets and the lack of water. He said, “Oh, if one toilet was dirty, you should have gone into the second one, or the third, or the fourth. And if you needed water, you should have asked me.” He got up to start a tap high up on a wall, at which all the taps in all the toilets started gushing water. I failed to make him understand that I could not go into a toilet, discover it does not have water, and then ask him for it, with my pants down. He did not look like he cared, anyway.
In the car, I described to Teja, the state of the toilet in graphic detail. “Why do you need to share this with me?” he grumbled. “The next thing I know, you will be showing me photographs.” I said, “Just. The curse of being a woman. In India.”
I shall refrain from sharing the details here.
A couple of hours later, at a dhaba in Muzzafarnagar, I did the crouch, my face and nose all puckered up. I went up to the proprietor and said, “Can’t you keep your toilets clean? How are women supposed to go there?” He said, “Oh sorry. It must have been those people before you. Should I wash it with water?” I could not explain to him, that a toilet needs to be clean before someone enters it. After a 2 or 3 hour drive, I am not going to wait for someone to clean down the toilet before I go.
I came out to Teja, standing in the sun, braving the wind, muttering under my breath. “Who are you abusing now?”, he asked. “No one”, I said. “Yes, you are.” “Men, in general”, I said. “Just because they can pee anywhere, standing up, they just don’t care about what happens to women.” “Why don’t you start a campaign?” he says. “Women should start peeing anywhere and everywhere. Men do it. They don’t feel ashamed if a woman is around. Then why should women be the only ones to feel shame? Let the men worry that if they want to ‘protect the honor of their women-folk’ they had better take care of them.”
There was a tree just before us, between the highway and the dhaba, and a clean patch of ground around it. I wondered what the men in the dhaba would think of me going there.
Maybe they would start scurrying around to clean the toilet, which they had not done, even after my complaint. Or would it just be titillating for them?
So, anyone ready for some monkeying around? I am certain that we would soon have the morality police down on ‘shameless women’.