Number Two

If you thought my posts were crappy, wait till you read this one:

My first day at the bath­room here. Deed done, I zipped up pants. And then, a sud­den gush of water, and my pants got drenched. Sop­ping, drip­ping, heart wrench­ing wet. Yes, I did get the order of events right, Ms. Know-It-All.

Puz­zled, I did what every guy does. My care­fully tucked shirt came out, and I walked gin­gerly back. I real­ize I am smok­ing hot, but can’t these girls stop look­ing at my pants for some time?

A few more attempts and some more pant wet­ting before I real­ized: Stop tuck­ing your shirt in, because the stu­pid thing will flush when­ever the tank is full, doesn’t mat­ter if a guy wear­ing his only pair of Calvin Klein chi­nos is in there fin­ish­ing up.

We’d sit around the table eat­ing lunch, or din­ner, or smok­ing cig­ars or play­ing poker or doing what­ever else a group of peo­ple in an alien coun­try can do sit­ting around a table. We’d start off well enough — how the food sucks, why the affir­ma­tive action pol­icy in Malaysia was all twisted, why work blowed and so on … A few min­utes was all it took though, for con­ver­sa­tion to veer back to our favorite topic: Toilets.

Asian toi­lets are dif­fer­ent from what most peo­ple in the West are used to: A hole in the floor, where peo­ple do the squatty, fol­lowed by wash­ing where the left hand comes into play. And this was a source of end­less fas­ci­na­tion to every­one: there were most left hand jokes passed around than potato chips. Every­one had a funny story, it seemed.

A steak­house across the street from where we lived had a restroom that had a bidet instead of a water closet. And to ensure that peo­ple knew this, they posted very explicit signs that left no room for any confusion.

It was all good, and I would laugh, of course, but if you lis­tened closely, you could’ve heard a lit­tle bit of guilt.

For the first ten years of my life, a flush toi­let wasn’t some­thing I had access to that often. We stayed far away from the city so my mom could be close to her school, and while that meant really good food all the time, it also required sac­ri­fices: An insanely long com­mute, and being stuck in a glo­ri­fied vil­lage mas­querad­ing as a sub­urb, with no tele­vi­sion recep­tion, no malls, and no flush toi­lets. Well, ok, maybe I exag­ger­ate a bit here: There was Muruge­san Annachi Kadai which seemed to have all the items in a mega mall squeezed into a hun­dred square feet, and some of the houses did have flush toi­lets, but not ours.

Most of the homes were built on one cor­ner of a large plot, while the other cor­ner housed the toi­let — a tiny room with an addi­tional wall about a foot from one edge, cre­at­ing a mini trench on the floor. You sit on the wall and … you know what I mean, right? And every morn­ing, a cou­ple of peo­ple would scoop the stuff up into buck­ets and empty the bucket into a cart, and push the cart sev­eral miles to a huge swath of land beside an impor­tant road to dump it. This was quaintly named the fer­til­izer dump — we do have a way with words, don’t we?

These peo­ple — a mother and her twenty some­thing son called Selva — would always show up drunk, because the alco­hol helped them for­get the stench, but the alco­hol also made them for­get to show up for days on end. I also have a feel­ing their job sat­is­fac­tion lev­els were kind of low. And when that hap­pens, absen­teeism increases, which results in a pro­por­tional increase in the lev­els of odor in the neigh­bor­hood. That would neces­si­tate a visit to Selva’s house by a del­e­ga­tion of old peo­ple caus­ing him to show up with a sulk for the next few days. But he’d show up nevertheless.

Some­how, we all managed.

And then one day, they closed the fer­til­izer dump, with no notice. It was inhu­mane they said — this process of humans remov­ing human waste — and so the best way to com­bat this men­ace was to close the dump­ing ground. That way, news would fil­ter down to the masses and they’ll turn humane overnight. If a few peo­ple lost their jobs in the process, big deal. So the land was sold to another gov­ern­ment depart­ment, which then started to build apart­ments there — I guess they must’ve adver­tised it as fer­tile real estate although I hadn’t seen the ads: I was too busy wor­ry­ing about where my next meal would go to.

We manged for a few weeks by mak­ing ad hoc pay­ments to Selva, who had no job now. He would come and remove things clan­des­tinely and then dump them some­where. The trees in the neigh­bor­hood loved him, I am sure. And … I could go on with gory details, but suf­fice to say that things did turn out well finally.

My dad was able to con­vince our reluc­tant home­owner to shell out money for an actual toi­let, com­plete with our own sep­tic sys­tem. And Selva mar­ried his child­hood sweet­heart and gave up drink­ing and made a for­tune and built his mom a cas­tle (with a west­ern toi­let) and had many kids and lived hap­pily ever after. Oh wait, that was a Tamil movie. In real life, Selva found a job at a brick kiln somewhere.

Then, I was off to col­lege, swear­ing never to set foot in a dry toi­let again. I wouldn’t, but what fol­lowed was worse.

Suresh wasn’t your nor­mal young man: he was into reli­gion, and he reminded us of it con­stantly. He’d avoid the raitha served in the hos­tel — onions make peo­ple horny, he told me once; and he’d use a wooden plank for a pil­low. Clearly, all this made him a very reli­gious per­son who was not to be messed with.

When he invited me over to his house for a few days, I was more than a lit­tle con­cerned: I asked him all the ques­tions I could think of — if they had nor­mal pil­lows in their house, if it was accept­able to not pray for sev­eral hours a day, and if it was okay that I pre­ferred cooked food. And then we took a bus to his house, which turned out to be an enor­mous struc­ture located in a pic­turesque vil­lage equidis­tant from Ooty and Coonoor.

The house was breath­tak­ingly beau­ti­ful — it was sur­rounded by lush green tea plan­ta­tions on three sides, and there was a stream flow­ing through the back­yard where car­rots and straw­ber­ries grew. The tea, I was told, is exported all over the world.

We then ate nor­mal food — a lot of it, and then slept on nor­mal beds with nor­mal pil­lows. And I woke up like nor­mal, and after a quick cup of cof­fee, expressed a wish to see the toi­let. And was told that there was none. “We go to tea estates,” he said, this son of the rich­est fam­ily in the vil­lage. The admis­sion had the effect of stun­ning me into hold­ing back for a good ten minutes.

Ok, take me there then.”

Where?”

Tea estate man, I got to go.”

Err… sorry, but now is the time for women. You have to wait another half hour before the male win­dow starts.”

And I held, and we went. Strangely, there was a stream right next to where I was, but I don’t really know if it was pic­turesque, because the plants were pok­ing me in the butt, and I felt an incred­i­ble urge to moo loudly and pull a cart along. Ok, that line stunk. For all I know, that stream could have been an actual stream, or it could have been that the girls had decided to have a group piss before we got there. Some­how, I must’ve man­aged to fin­ish… all I can remem­ber is swear­ing to never set foot in a tea estate again — you can say what you want about them, but a dry toi­let never poked me in the butt, caus­ing me get up and yelp loudly.

I dou­ble boil my tea to this day.

PS:

While we are at this, might as well take the oppor­tu­nity to laugh at some­one elses expense. I have a friend who I will not name. He was once this ide­al­is­tic young man who believed in social ser­vice, and so vol­un­teered to go build a road at a vil­lage near Salem. The party stayed at some school I think.

And this vil­lage — kind of more sophis­ti­cated than Suresh’s vil­lage — had one bath­room that they reserved for the wom­en­folk, and the men were directed to the fields nearby. So my friend, who would soon be a man,went into the fields that morn­ing, with another friend for company.

These two young men believed them­selves to be supe­rior to the riffraff that were perched on the out­skirts of the field, and what bet­ter way to prove their supe­ri­or­ity than by head­ing deeper? So they headed, car­ry­ing an open pail filled with water. They picked clean spots, squat­ted, and began.

A short way into the process, they real­ized that they had com­pany. Pigs, that believe that human crap is quite unlike revenge and is to be par­taken when steam­ing hot. And on see­ing a cou­ple of nice guys dish­ing it out to them, the pigs rushed toward their food; and the two servers had to relo­cate rapidly to another spot. And this went on for some time: Sit, shit, get up, run, sit, shit…

And by the time the process came to an end, two things had hap­pened. The pigs were quite full, and the pails were quite empty. This neces­si­tated a des­per­ate cry for help to the riffraff who brought water, and hope­fully got a good look. I don’t know what type of food­grain was grown in those fields, but I would strongly rec­om­mend dou­ble boil­ing all food, espe­cially if it comes from deep within.