A few days ago, one of my girlfriends had gone to Khan Market with her boyfriend. After they wrapped up a beer-drinking session at Chonas, boyfriend was besieged by the sudden need to “use the restroom” – by then they were jaywalking around the marketplace. “My bladder,” boyfriend said, “is bursting.”
Okay, so public toilet it had to be (he didn’t want to go back to Chonas to take a leak). Somewhere in the middle alley of Khan Market, they tracked down a men’s loo. This is what my friend had to report on the episode: “The door wasn’t shut, so you could see the men lined up...”
“Yeah, yeah,” I interjected, “but they all must have had their backs turned towards you, right? So what’s new? It’s such a common sight in the Great Indian Environment…”
“Arrey, listen na,” she screamed, and continued with her report. “One chap, who was on the job, suddenly turned around to face me. Soooo, basically, he FLASHED.”
And then, sometime last week, a few of us had gone to the cosy coffee shop of a hotel in south Delhi for dinner; while on our way out, the one boy in our group “needed to be excused”. He went into the restroom while we girls hung out right outside, chatting.
Our man was back in two minutes. He promptly exploded: “What in God’s name are you doing outside the men’s loo?”
Excuse me? We were waiting for you.
“You know, everyone’s going to think you girls are looking for trouble.”
“Yeah, like getting picked up.”
“Just because we were waiting for you outside the restroom?”
“Well, yes, because men need their privacy when they piddle – so if you invade that privacy, you’re obviously sending out signals, morally wrong ones.”
During my formative years, I remember my mother shrieking “Don’t look, don’t look, just look away”, each time we’d come across any male ‘committing public nuisance’ (on the road, usually against a wall, but at times into thin air). I always told her I wasn’t looking, and that I didn’t want to look, but she would insist that I actually look the other way.
I never got that. I don’t get it even now. If men want to urinate in public, that’s their problem. Why do women have to get all flustered and red-faced and look away – or run away?
“Committing public nuisance” is also a great leveller in the Indian social fabric: a phenomenon that is not hamstrung by class, caste, creed or credo even.
In the colony where I live, for instance, which is decidedly upmarket (no reflection of my social — or financial — status: I just got plain lucky during my house-hunting days), there is a ‘No Honking: Please Keep This Area Peaceful’ signboard juxtaposed right next to a ‘Please Don’t Commit Nuisance’ placard. One night, returning home with a couple of friends, we could see the silhouettes of a couple of men “committing nuisance”.
“The signboard should read ‘Please Keep This Area Piss-ful’, no?” suggested one of my friends. I was in splits.
“Let me add to that,” another offered. While I assumed he’d say something as clever, he solemnly stood alongside the public offenders and committed his share of nuisance.
Obviously, I had to look away.