Loo logic

What is your instant feeling when you enter a public loo? Hope it is as clean as the one I have at home (psst…even if yours is actually not Harpic clean).

There are two kinds of loos in most Indian cities- the WC and the Indian squat (‘squat’ is my addition). For the sake of hygiene and minimum body contact, my personal pick is the Indian squat. Yes, for convenience and for all backache and medically special cases, the WC is but the obvious choice. The WC is never complete without a hand sprinkler/shower, a roll of tissues, the osmotic cistern and a dustbin. When you have one ingredient lacking it is well, ahem ahem.

The Indian squat (don’t know how it got the signature adjective- Indian) is the most exploited one. The most rudimentary form consists of a four-walled thatched enclosure at some far corner of a field, compound, pond, etc. The inside is very interesting. There are mostly two flattened metamorphic slabs handpicked from some nearby river flanking a conveniently carved/dug drain made for the purpose. There is usually an outlet to some stream, drain or unused no man’s land. Old discarded RCC pipes or PVC sheets are used to facilitate an undisturbed flow of sewage from the pot to the dumps. Some dig pits which usually take care of the compost for years. The most up-to date form, all of us know.

Public loos are the biggest blessing to the modern consumer. There are times when you have to relieve in some damn place, pretending to close your eyes like the proverbial stag that no one saw. Men have no qualms, they are biologically better blessed for such emergencies. For women, modesty and her clothes are her biggest enemies. Interestingly, I have seen a woman pedlar relieving in broad daylight in full view of the world with aplomb and panache without having to sit/squat, of course she was not wearing a panty! As kids, we hardly bothered where. While out for treks and picnics, it was girls this side and boys that side. Someone always kept guard while the rest ran behind a shrub. We forgot the sky is watching.

The loo logic for most of us is to use the 1st one or the last one for privacy’s sake. Most mall loos have partitions which are 7 inches high from the ground and stop at 3 inches above your head. So, even if you made some noise or worse still, broke air or farted you have that whatever feeling when you vacate for the next person. Studies reveal that the 1st and the last loo in a multiple loo restroom are the most germ carrying agents since they are the most used. The ones in the middle are slightly safer but in case of a toilet jam, no loo is germfree. Most loos have a caretaker who flushes, mops and does the needful. Some do it for free, some for a rupee. I always remember Mulk Raj Anand’s Bakha when I am using a public loo. I am thankful. I do get a lil’ irritated when some uncivilized freaky female for the sake of avoiding contact with the toilet seat climb on the seat and leave her sandal/shoe marks. If she is so finicky, she should carry a newspaper( like men do in the morning ablutions) if the said loo does not provide toilet disposable tissue seat covers. We can be civilised if not flexible.

Pray to your guardian gods and goddesses if your public loo is flooded with water. Some sensible water loving person just relieved on the ground and let the tap run to clear the uric stench. Somebody can slip, somebody clothes could get soiled and somebody can see who is in from the outside, thanks to the watery reflection.

The takeaway is not much. We all love nice, clean loos.

Going dutch

A friend of mine got a film roll and I remember all of us had to shell out 20 rupees each for the positives and the negatives. Our restaurant bills, irrespective of who ate the lion’s share or had a coffee (kidding! we never asked more than the price of the coffee), they were always divided by that many people around. Going dutch always kept the messes of money away and like they say, never mix friendship and money. The “is equal to” is always nasty.

Don’t have that kind of experience but definitely some eye openers to have seen very few joint accounts working in favour of working couples or just one partner working. What is recurrently symptomatic is each refuses to be accountable unless it is a compulsive disorder. You do have some who splurge for the other, most times for the self and sometimes for some people.

My best friend and I keep it simple, we take turns. We don’t feel we are doing each other a favour but definitely, we are doing a favour to ourselves. We have gone dutch only when we are on pathetic shoe-string budgets.

I have another dear friend who does not believe in me paying for anything (even my share!) when we are out on coffee or a snack for the plain reason that it is not chivalrous. It is incidental that he is well-off.

There is another lady who won’t allow me to pay for age’s sake. She is older than I. The only time I could pay for something for her is when she forgot to carry her wallet. Mad that she is, she insisted to return the entire amount.

These habits however quirkily generous and endearing can be taken advantage of if you do not know the value of the person you are doing it for and also, knowing that money does not count actually.

I love these people. Borrowing/lending money or having any monetary deals with such people is never going to be a pain. You have an open heart and trust. When you are all giving, I want to give more and all to that person.

I also have some people who ‘conveniently’ forget that I paid his/her share for some dutch event and well, the association just lingers until the pay-up happens. It is not annoying but a revelation that hey, you better go dutch with this person all the time and please, keep him or her out if the same buck is passed around.

Settling dutch-ments, I hate them.

Not saying, going dutch is the safest option always. It is the best option but it does, it surely can leave a bitter taste in your mouth if it is not your venture.

It is not polite to drag someone for a meal and insist on the person to pay for his/her portion of the meal for dutch’s sake. At least, that is the way I feel. Some just don’t get it even when you offer to pay the entire bill and say it is my treat and the last meal with you. They maybe continentally sophisticated, cosmopolite, very aware and fashionably very avant-garde but all I say is- “get lost!”

Puja, Circa 2008

Puja came and went by. I knew it was there, by the time I realized it was here it was gone. I managed to offer anjali on Asthami at a nearby pandal, old times floated by for a moment of mirage-like happiness. You grow old but it only seemed like yesterday when Papa gave me a hundred rupee note each day of the puja and you could spend it the way you wanted. I blew it up most times, my sister saved hers. I thought I heard Bunty and Guddu calling out my name, let’s go!! I can see Ma talking to other aunties of the colony, complimenting each other- nice saree, nice this and nice that.

It is still the same, only I was not home. Ma was reluctant to tell me how they spent Puja, knowing I will probably cry. My new clothes were at the tailors, did not feel like following up like I used to.

I missed home so much this time, you have no idea. I missed being at home during puja, all the action and just being in tune for those 4 grand days, I missed everything.

My puja was quiet here, deeply engrossed in work and reminiscence, observed my abstinence of onion/garlic/eggs like they do at home, that was the closest association I could bring myself to with home. My homage to the Goddess is not an ounce less if not devoted. The night of Navami, I felt a certain hollow, felt a lil’ wretched, was a lil’ angry at myself for not being able to live Puja the way I love to. Mehndi-wet hands, some trivia shopping with a girlfriend, did I catch dinner at work? I don’t remember, but mobility in an alien city that I now call a working home is still pretty much full of constraint- traffic, a full day at work, a million Murphy’s laws should take care of the rest. I don’t blame anyone, including myself.

When I was going home, at some signal crossing my eyes just welled up. I just felt like crying, neighbouring passers-by and bikers and autos gave me that "is all ok?" look. That lil’ girl who ran across the road with a balloon came by, asked me to buy it since it was Puja. I told her to go, there is no kid at my place (that kid grew up long ago). Here, I was struggling to hold back my tears and here, you want me to buy that balloon. Yes, that bubble burst sometime ago. It is never the same.

Waiting for the next Mahalaya with folded hands.

Puja- old times

The thrill of visiting a Puja pandal is still fresh as ever. I remember the first time when Papa carried me on his shoulders in the jostling streets of a festive Shillong so that I get an aerial view of people, new clothes, food stalls and of course, the Goddess, resplendent in vermillion and bright hues of love, affection, strength and faith.

The rhythmic beat of the dhak, the blow of the conch, the chanting of the Vedic hymns, the frenzy and trance of the arati stay on for days until the next Mahalaya.

There is a plan more meticulous than the seasons in the sun when to buy clothes, how many, when to visit the tailors, a pilgrimage to the beauty parlour for that 10-day look, your shoes, accessories and all that dhoom-dhaam!

Stack your books and studies away for a few days, put your best feet forward, nicely painted toes, pedicured and nicely manicured hands to tuck that frequent/occasional cascade of hair across your face, thanks to a hair disaster that has turned fashionably signature. Oh, Puja is like that. You start with last year’s dress, the less fortunate ones don’t have a start.

Saptami was always quiet, you had to pinch yourself to believe that Puja has arrived. Asthami is the day-fun, fashion, food, frolic and all the jazz. By Navami, you should have seen all the pandals and eaten your fill, flirted you way and earned yourself a couple of blisters, thanks to new shoes that bite, lot of travelling, sore feet, dancing and whatever. Dashami always brought tears, the Goddess leaves and the poignance of the dhak beaters at your doorstep for that extra buck which they wait for the whole year, the colorful vermillion holi that married women indulge in and the excitement of the young, the old, the womenfolk and the middle-aged to dance their way until the river ghat to say a sad farewell. You should see the soiled clothes, the ruffled hair and the red foreheads. All look forward to the shantijal, the prasad bitaran and the sacred thread. I hate when parents howl-get back to the sansar, homework, assignments, revision, selection tests, library work, blah blah.

The morning ablutions were always elaborate and fun, from scrubbing yourself squeaky clean to a nice luxurious bath (with no one banging the bathroom door like the school bell will go off any moment), slide into new clothes, blow half a can of parfum deo spray and steal a lil’ make up here and there to show you have come of ‘make-up’ big girl age.

I always got the heebie-jeebies whenever I had to go to the pandal to sit and offer anjali and wait for the bhog. First, however much an attention seeker I am, I do get squirmish at constant stares, you don’t know why they stare- either you look funny or good(less likely in/with the pancake) or whatever. A small pouch of coins for dakhina and chewing gum, chana badam and the ilk with a sweaty hanky thanks to cleaning lipstick bleeds and kajal smudges, my dim retrospect of those bygone days make me smile like Chaucer. Nobody cooks lunch, there is no breakfast save for bread, biscuit and chai- our desi version of an English breakfast. The bhog is your lunch, piping hot khichuri served with loads of vegetables, brinjal fries, kheer, sweets and I could go on and on.

Pandal hopping was so much fun. You go in hordes. The younger guys and also, the older boys were our permanent ATMs doubled up as bodyguards and willingly enough. How they loved to foot the egg roll bill as long as the girls took care of the grand lunch, no no… we always went dutch. Some affairs happen and fizzle out like colas.

That was until a couple of years ago.