November 16, 2011


The door opened by itself and I walked in to the soulful music of Dire Straits. As I slid my hands under the tap in the restroom of my favourite restaurant in Singapore, I realized this is also number 2 in my list of favourite restrooms across the world.

Working for SNDU has scarred me in ways more than one :) Fascination with restroom is just one of them. Very rarely does a job require you to look intently at a squat style Indian toilet with deep reverence in Andheri West and ask the lady of the house, “aap acid kyun use karte hain? Achha... saath mein detergent bhi?” and then on the next day admire pictures of squat toilets in South East Asia and understand similarities and differences! (True Story)

That was the moment in end 2007 when the tryst with restrooms started. And that’s why I get really irritated at times. What’s with the restrooms around the world? I mean has no one ever noticed how confusing signs can be? Given that selecting the wrong door can lead to some of the most embarrassing moments in a person’s life, I would have hoped that someone would have done something about it. You know, at least have some kind of standardization?

Let’s take one of the ad agencies I worked with. You had to stand in front of their doors to figure out whether the image was of a man’s or woman’s. Fantastic creativity! In fact, the first time I guessed it, I went WOW! But then when you are rushing, you can’t actually appreciate creativity, Can you?

In one of the now defunct pubs in South Mumbai, I was sitting with 3 people who had by that time drunk enough to visit the restroom multiple times. But what I wasn’t prepared for was scared shouts from grown up men as they ran out of the male restroom as my friend walked in straight into the last male bastion and later claimed famously, “it showed a figure wearing pants. I was wearing pants.” She later, when sober and in office, refused to accept that she had made this statement and the world lost one of the greatest feminist icons of all times!

One day, I was sitting peacefully in a restroom wondering about the world around me and then suddenly I heard voices. Now that’s not strange in a world with 7 billion people. I am sure very few people have personal restrooms in this world. In fact, that’s when I figured out one of the reasons I love travelling alone on work – I am the master of my own bogs!

The airports across the world can be rated according to the cleanliness of their toilets. Chennai and Calcutta would be amongst the worst while Dubai, Delhi T3 and Singapore can claim to be amongst the best. Sometimes in Changi I feel at few given points in time, there are more restrooms than travellers in the airport.

I still remember the awesomeness I felt at a Dubai restroom. It was my first international trip and I could feel the difference. In India, except perhaps at T3 in Delhi, you would shudder to use a public restroom. Women in India have it the hardest and more often than not, if you are observant, you will realize how women in India have learnt to cope. It’s a rare moment when I feel anger but I still remember I felt extremely extremely angry and helpless at that moment in Dubai. And that’s why I love Sulabhs in India. Maybe not the best amongst the world but for an average Indian, they often are lifesavers.

I blame it on our use of water without going into too much graphic details about it. Being both a water conservationist and a paper conservationist, you might choose to save paper, but do remember that water spreads. What does your culture ask you to use? With that disturbing thought I stop! :)

Enough about restrooms so here’s the last bit. My favourite restroom is the one beside Wimpy’s near the D gates in Jo’Berg Airport. I have been there about 4 times now and that’s the only restroom I actively seek out. It’s a place where the gentleman in charge of the restroom welcomes every passenger with a glittering South African smile and a statement – “Welcome to my Office”. I really tried to recommend him for his fantastic attitude towards his work but I could not find a feedback kiosk in Jo’berg.

It feels nice to be in a restroom beside your own where you know it is cared for.

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