On Sunday, as you were sitting down for dinner, or tying your pajama strings before hitting the sack, or making Uncle Anbumani worry about your drinking habits, a landmark arrest was being made in New Delhi. Baljit Singh Sabharwal and Harjit Singh, law-abiding citizens and happy-go-lucky fellas, decided that when you gotta go, you don’t necessarily have to go too far. That decision of theirs may lead to a change in behavioural patterns of urban Indian men forever.
Being around 9 pm in balmy Delhi, our two friends figured that since they were in the vicinity of a Metro station and needed to empty their bladders, the premises of the station would do very well for the purpose thank you very much. As they helped themselves mark their territories, a few Metro Rail employees tried to stop them from tinkling. It wasn’t the right spot. And it wasn’t the right time. Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) personnel were called in, who in turn handed over our lightened but unenlightened friends to the police. Baljit’n’Harjit were arrested for committing nuisance.
Is this the beginning of a long, warm and uninterrupted relationship between 21st century Indians and new notions of public hygiene?
Now, piddling in the Great Narrow Open is not considered much of an offence in this great nation of ours. Let me put it this way: you won’t catch the Rajya Sabha having a furious discussion on stopping the menace, or Kuldip Nayar or Arun Shourie picking up the gauntlet if not the mop. Well, this paper did run an anti-public urination campaign last winter. But Baljit’n’Harjit — and I think a vast number of other gentlemen frequently under duress — must have been following the nuclear deal debate on the editorial page of this paper at that time.
The law, as it comes across rather colourlessly in Section 308 (1)(i) of the New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) Act 1994, goes: “No citizen shall use or permit to be used as a latrine or urinal any place not intended for the purpose.” The rules are a little kinder when dealing with children under 12 as the citizen is told to “take all reasonable means” to prevent kids from “easing” in a “public street or a public place”. Apart from our cherubims allowed to squirt their stuff in public places under emergency circumstances, there seems to be no real disincentive for our grown-up men to scour the streets for public loos when the moment of reckoning comes. And the moment of reckoning comes all too easily. Even the municipal chaps look the other way, armed with the logic that there isn’t enough public lavatories in Indian cities for them to crack down on public piddlers and not feel morally and ethically guilty.
True as this reasoning may be, I think the paucity of loos is just an excuse for being overtly tolerant towards public pissing. After all, in cities across the world sticking to a different culture and hygiene parameters, public urination is the dominion of drunkards crawling out of late-night pubs, or ‘anti-socials’ leaving their rebellious marks on society’s walls (like when three members of the Rolling Stones were fined £5 each for peeing in public in London in 1965). Here, for men to whip it out and relieve oneself is as routine and accepted as non-arranged marriages are in California. Even our women — who seem to have special powers that allow them to grin and bear a bladder build-up — don’t seem to bat an eyelid.
Well, at least Baljit’n’Harjit were not caught in their No 1 moment like Juan Matamoros of Massachussetts was in 1986. Matamoros had had a few too many drinks and was urinating on to the side of a car when three passersby saw him and reported him to the police. He was charged with “lewd and lascivious behaviour” and classified as a ‘sexual offender’. Because of that nasty record, he and his family were told to move last year from Florida by the state authorities.
Baljit’n’Harjit and other blissful -jits out there, be careful. The pressure may be building.