Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Malls and loos

A comment on Acorn triggered this post. I am posting more than once in the same day coz I'm on a roll today. I had wanted to post on certain things but was not able to do so due to paucity of time. So, this is sort of like 'batch processing', to use computer jargon.
Many people feel that the mall culture is just vacuous consumerism, driven by globalization and the fancy-schmancy stuff that goes with getting richer and spending their new-found wealth, while large masses continue to lead a wretched existence on the sidelines.
It is true that large populations have not really benefited significantly. But, many others, who would otherwise be making do with mediocre products and services, who would not have had a higher standard of living in terms of comforts and conveniences, have definitely benefited. Anyway, this post is not really about globalization and its pros and cons, per se. It is more specifically about malls.

There is one thing about glitzy malls that I love. Nah, it's not just the trendy clothes, the lights and background music that transport you to a temporary delusional state of well-being and peppiness even when you are in the dumps.

It's that corner where no one goes to satisfy their aspirational needs. It's the place where everyone goes to satisy their most basic natural need - the call of nature. Of course, I am talking about the loo:)!
A universal problem with travelling in India is the absence of clean public toilets. Forget about that dreaded bus journey from Mumbai to Nashik or wherever else, a few years ago, if you happened to have travelled from Kandivali to Colaba (the former is a suburb in Western Mumbai and the latter is in downtown, propah South Bombay), got drenched in the rain, looked for a private outlet to pee, Heaven help you. And, to top it all off, if you happened to have the XX pair of chromosomes (read 'female'), I leave it to your imagination the level of discomfort and the almost yogic self-control you needed to exert upon your bladder unless and happened to have the other type of self-control. The ability to control your revulsions as you entered a place wafting with ammonia, sulphur dioxide and God knows what other gases, all naturally produced, and filled with biological refuse of Homo sapiens . If you are the really philosophical or, rather, the clinical kind, you could dismiss it as, what the heck! But, you get the picture.

When I first came to the US, I was pleasantly surprised that there were clean restrooms in virtually every major store. As for malls, some had automatic flushing toilets and some rest areas on the highways had ornamental sinks with automatic water fountains (Gasp)! I wondered, suppose we also had our mega KMarts or their equivalent, we would soon be able to look forward to the day when you did not have to go thirsty to avoid a dreaded trip to the public loo. I was not completely wrong. The snazzy Crossroads mall in Mahalakshmi, Mumbai, and the various Shoppers' Stop outlets, not to forget the many INOX/IMAX kind of theatres, all have clean restrooms (ooh..that sounds so spa-like as compared to 'toilet' :):)) with trendy youngsters sizing themselves up in the mirrors near the sinks.
For a vast, populous country like India, where civic sense and public hygiene are yet not something people lose sleep over, some private initiative in this regard, will go a long way in improving the overall conditions of public sanitation. At least, people will get a better option. As malls become profitable, they will not need to charge people who do not buy anything from them to use their restrooms. Commercialization in this area is a good thing. After all, not everyone is like this
great man or the person who started the Shulabh Shauchalaya chain and even these are inadequate in number.
On the other hand, I wonder why some countries were able to gravitate towards cleanliness in the first place and why some, despite their ancient civilization and culture, are still lagging behind even in basic civic consciousness.
I remember a time I visited my great-grandmother many years ago, in a small village. Her old, small house did not have built-in restrooms. I, a city girl, was terrified of living there for more than a day or two. Later generations did not face this problem. Even then, the toilet was an area away from the house in the olden days. Sometimes, it was a structure separate from the main house in the backyard. These days, in homes in Western countries, the loos are gorgeous, filled with fragrant pot-pourri, reading material, landscape paintings, ornate plumbing and what not, elevating the humble loo to a place of high art. Probably, the trend has caught on in upper middle class India, too. Why am I describing all this? Because it probably helps to understand the Indian attitude towards toilets in general and helps us figure out why we have not progressed much in this regard.
Read this great article by Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak, the pioneer behind Sulabh Shauchalaya and this.
On another note, Annie has some touching posts on human scavengers.


Autumn or 'patjhad', also known as 'fall', is nearly coming to an end.
This is when Nature becomes a bride, decked in red and gold and a myriad other earthy hues. Except that the leaves that are so beautiful today are steadily marching towards their death. Very soon, the trees will be bare, the town desolate, robbed of its little leaves of joy. It will be the 'fall', in the literal sense of the word.
I'll be posting some pictures soon. Never underestimate the power of beauty, particularly that of Nature. The full branches with flowers and leaves and fruit do something to your senses. So do bright sunlight, glorious sunsets and sky colours.
I can really feel the difference when I am in an area that is completely swamped by vehicles, buildings and the like with Nature reduced to a sulking corner, her space appropriated thanklessly by her own children and one where humans and Nature have found their own resonating frequency.
I am writing this as I sit by my verandah, before gold-green-and-brown trees, the rain falling, a cloudy sky with some peach-blue-crimson-yellow in the evenings. Also, this post by Mumbaigirl was lovely, I mean, literally.