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.


Srini said...

Hilarious as well as very insightful post. I especially liked your humor on Mumbai travel. Lol!! brings back memories...I have one comment...when you wrote about your grandma's place, I remembered my grandma's house too in Thiruvaiyaru, whom I'll be visiting this time around. I certainly see the point in having the toilet/bathroom as a separate unit outside the main house like at my grandma. It is akin to placement of toilets in a mall - in a corner or in a house at a appropriate spot. Yeah, in these days of apts and small houses and lost knowledge on Vaasthu Sashtra, we do our best to "holify" the toilet/bathroom with all kind of potpourri and what not to make it a more likeable place. But if I had a chance(read without biased public ridicule), I'd certainly like to gravitate towards our elder generation way of construction of houses. I do not believe our perception of toilet is the reason for lack of hygiene in India..rather I think the lack of self discipline, "who cares" attitude and generations of disregard for environment.

SloganMurugan said...

Bad loos. The indian way to keep women locked at home.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree, that is my single most favourite thing about malls!

SloganMurugan said...

Malls and Loos: Malluland has more loos per thousand people than any other part of India. These are in homes, not public loos.

Nitin said...

The cities of the Indus Valley civilisation had a system of drains...which seem to have disappeared with the civilisation.

As for location of toilets at a distance from rural houses, I think it is also because of the use of well water for cooking. Wells and toilets (which drain into pits) are best kept apart to ensure drinking water is hygienic.

Again, no system of drains and sewers. I wonder why.

LAK said...

Hi Lotus eyes, first time here. Very thoughtful post. You have said what many of us feel, but don't express. Dilli Haat is decent in this respect too! BTw, it's a coicidence, but I've just put up a post which is roughly related to scavengers. You might like to visit