If World Wrestling Champion Sushil Kumar was given a sneak preview of a Commonwealth Games (CWG) Village flat last week, I’d bet my molten bar of red Lifebuoy that he’d find it fetching. Not because he’d be perfectly at home with a few stray dogs lolling about on the bed or with streaks that are more at home on a Jackson Pollock painting than on the toilet bowl, but because he’d probably figure out that after a shoo and a swab, these are quite comfy surroundings to live in, in between his sweaty grappling medal-winning moments on the mat.
Sushil — or, for that matter, any Indian shot-put or javelin thrower at the CWG — would realise that the gaps in the windows, loose electrical fittings, and the iron railings wide enough “for animals to slip in” are hardly irritants. And he’s definitely not going to consider the room in which he plops himself on a comfy Kurlon mattressed bed after drying his face with soft toilet paper as ‘unlivable’. “Why do they have tissue papers so low down and next to the commode?” would be a natural question for not only many of those who built the handsome, no-fuss blocks in the Games Village, but also for many of our athletes. Abhinav Bindra apart, of course, who’ll be probably bringing his own set of towels. (I myself am yet to fathom what the function of that gun-like object next to the duplicate toilet bowl is. Even if I do know that the thing’s pronounced ‘bee-day’.)
Heck, this Games Village flats have refrigerators and not just a plastic jug of water with a smudgy upside glass tumbler on a plastic tray like they do in government guest houses where they put our athletes up in those national tournaments. So what gives? We’re making it sound as if a 95-foot hanging bridge has fallen and injured a group of bright, 3 Idiots-adoring, IIM-aspiring kids or something.
I can understand all those foreigners used to blowing their noses into handkerchiefs kicking up a fuss about ‘filthy’ and ‘unlivable’ conditions in the CWG flats. But why are we homeys getting so shocked and so embarrassed? Well, because Organising Committee Secretary General Lalit Bhanot has let the mangy cat out of the gunny bag when he said that “hygiene standards are different for different people”. Can you really put your well-scrubbed left hand on your heart and say that Bhanot is bull-shitting when he said: “For us and for you [the flats] are clean. But [foreigners] have a different standard of cleanliness. It is a matter of difference in perception”?
The only way no one would have complained about the Games Village would have been if the Authorities (like the Furies, they’re a collective, not individuals) had hired Australian builders, Scottish labourers (‘construction workers’ then), English interior decorators and Canadian sex workers. That way, the foreign complainants would have had living conditions according to their standards and Suresh Kalmadi would have had yet another reason to go on and on about the CWG being world-class.
Over the years, my humble professional trajectory has taken me up the hygiene ladder. I now frequently use liquid soap and occasionally toilet paper. (Bottom-wiping British sinologist Joseph Needham quoted a 9th century traveller to China, the birthplace of the TP: “The Chinese aren’t careful about cleanliness... they don’t wash themselves with water when they’ve done their necessities but only wipe themselves with paper.”) But have I reached the private or public hygiene standards of my equivalent at, say, the Sydney Morning Herald? With our purchasing power parity, I doubt it
So never mind the rough job on the doors, the tacky nettings to keep the mosquitoes out and the headline-creating ‘turd on the run’. Maybe the CWG flats aren’t the bees’ knees for all those visitors who loved Slumdog Millionaire. But to us, their whines should be like water off a duck’s back. Our idea of ‘filthy’ is the public lavatory near the Saket cinemaplex; of ‘unlivable’, the area outside the Games Village submerged in the (at last!) world-class Yamuna. Which reminds me, stop the car! I just have to take a leak right now against that nice, freshly-painted wall.