By Jugal Mody
Last week on The Finger, I did a piece on The Right To Pee campaign that has been running in Mumbai since 2011. Along with that piece, I had asked friends to contribute (what since then have come to be known as) pee stories. Pee stories are real life stories told by women about their experiences where their lives would have been “a zillion times better” if only they had had access to a public loo. We announced a “Call for Pee stories” and quite a few of you wrote in. Here are the first five (Will keep updating this post as more come in):
Every time I enter a public loo I feel a Hitchcockian anxiety. I always dread what’s going to be behind the door. The only way I would go to one is if there’s absolutely no option. I’d rather pee behind a tree or shrub than a public loo. In Mumbai however you can never find a tree and my life threatening pee urge happened to me at 6.00 am at Bandra station on Sunday morning. I was with a guy friend of mine and waiting for another friend to join. We were supposed to go somewhere for a trek. While waiting for him I suddenly had the urge to pee and I knew that I would not last the train journey, nor could I go back home. So my friend went and enquired and the only available loo was the men’s loo on platform no 4. The ladies loo was locked and would open only after 2 or 3 hours.I was in a pressure situation of a different kind. I mustered the courage and went in with my friend, where most men from around the area had come with their lungs folded and water cans in hand. The guy at the counter came in and let me jump the queue telling everyone, ‘Inko jaane do, time nahi lagega’. My friend stood guard at the door. The loo had no latch and it was explicitly filthy. I finished my business but the images still haunt me to this day.
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Annie Zaidi, Writer
One day, at a station on the western line – somewhere between Andheri and Dadar – I actually managed to find a women’s loo that was not locked. And made the mistake of stepping inside the darkened enclosure. My foot squelched and sank into something soft. It took a couple of seconds to register what the mess was – it was about two inches of shit. Human shit all over the floor. I withdrew the foot and stepped back outside. Suddenly, it seemed as if the world had turned dark. As if the station was empty. There was just me, and my outrage. And the overwhelming humiliation.
(Read the full piece)
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Sharanya Manivannan, Poet/Writer
Any woman who says she doesn’t have penis envy hasn’t needed to pee on a twelve hour journey, holding it in for three hours while the bus stops at random intervals for jolly, jaunty men to hop off and on, sparing nary a thought for the sheer luxury that is projectile peeing. Perching in a twist on my bunk on the overnighter, I could see them through the bus’ front windows, holding up the vehicle, unapologetically doing their business against bushes and cliffs and dividers in the full glare of the headlights. Also visible were the men huddled in the appropriately-dubbed cockpit, doing other things I longed to but could not, for the same reasons I was holding it in: smoking, chatting with the bus driver, enjoying bearing down on smaller vehicles, not thinking about their bladders at all.
(Read the full piece)
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The trailer for filmmaker Paromita Vohra’s brilliant documentary, aptly titled Q2P
Anubha Yadav, Writer/Academic
If Dilli Haat showcases the nation’s cultural and gastronomic delights then allegorically it also stands representative of its sanitation standards.The toilets are not labelled, and only after asking a few permanent hawkers will you find there unscrupulous presence. Although many cubicles are there in a row they almost seem as unkept as a feebly budgeted Dharamshala toilet somewhere in remote India. Any guesses how much does Dilli Haat earn in revenue everday? Could it be enough to maintain a decent toilet? They are uninviting,watery, and unclean.They have no hanging devices for the shopaholics, so if you are alone dont shop or dont go to the toilet. Quite a choice NDMC wants us to make.
(Read more Loo Reviews like this)
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As a journalist covering a political rally, I remember the immense shame I felt when I had to walk into a supermarket and ask a salesman if I could use the toilet there. The salesman’s shock and embarrassment didn’t help. But for me the supermarket was a better bet than any of the houses around, simply in terms of safety. If I did get into trouble, and sadly one is always expecting to, there were many people around. It was crowded, I could shout for help. It is not just a question of hygiene that hits you when you need to use a public toilet. There is, firstly, the question of safety. Girls are reminded, time and again, not to ‘stray’ looking for a public toilet. What if you are kidnapped? What if you’re raped? Secondly, one has to deal with shame. We are taught not to talk about certain things and peeing is definitely one of them. I have seen offices of huge media houses in which women on one floor of the office need to walk to another floor or another wing to use the toilet. This, in places where almost half the workforce is female. The excuse: this is an old building and earlier it was largely men that worked here, the new wing has a women’s loo! The problem is not limited to public spaces. Schools and workplaces too usually never have sufficient women’s toilets.The lack of toilets makes women invisible in public spaces. It reinforces the inane idea that women are intruders and don’t ‘belong’ in public spaces.
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Mohini Dutta, Narrative Strategist
I worked in film-production for 5 years, and for the whole time peeing was an afterthought. Something the “talent” was allowed to do. A good Assistant Director was expected to have the bladder control of Superwoman. Mostly because having an accessible bathroom for the women was as rare as having the talent arrive on time (snark).
One time I was travelling around Rajasthan, location scouting for a shoot. We had a five hour long jeep ride to get to the site of the day, and we were told we might stop for lunch. Being the invincible film types, we could manage those odds provided we got our cigarette breaks of course. It being a hot day, our driver thoughtfully brought a cooler of cold drinks and juices which we helped ourselves to. Inevitably the bladders began complaining, and more and more of the 5 minute cigarette breaks ended up being opportunities for the men to go pee behind the jeep. Being the only woman on that trip, the situation got worse and worse for me as we drove down the pristine Thar desert with not even cacti, leave alone bathrooms around. Eventually I was desperate enough to just go behind the jeep too, when lo behold – a dhaaba!
Urgently stopping the jeep I ran to the women’s bathroom, a promising concrete cube at a respectful distance from the main restaurant. The light kept dwindling as I forged ahead with the sand breezing over my feet. Reaching the twilight bathroom, I took a giant leap towards the first stall as my feet sloshed in 2-3 inches of water (even more perplexing in the deep desert). This little pond at my feet only reminded me of my strained bladder, and ignoring all else I leaped into a stall, barred the door and let it all out. The relief of an empty bladder is incredible, heck, I’d even venture to say it was magical at the moment. Such peace, such tranquillity. I was ready to face anything now! Just as I was leaving my stall, one of the dusty bulbs in the bathroom flickered to life. Suddenly I was under a spotlight, unable to ignore what was around me anymore. My feet were in 2-3 inches of water, with little brown pieces of shit floating around it. All around my sneakers, poop. At that moment the only thing worth saying was, “SHIT!”
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Shraddha Chigateri, Researcher
I have a rainbow of pee stories, in all the shades of yellow. The one I remember most often and oddly, with hindsight-fondness, is a story that begins with a beer. Idiotically, I did not use the loo before I left for a show 40 minutes away. Ten minutes into the auto ride, I realised I had to pee. I wasted precious time pondering the ‘to go back or to go forward’ dilemma till it was too late. The auto chugged along, past a college, past a stinking men’s public loo. The urgency was rising, but I couldn’t bring myself to say, ‘Stop, please. I need a loo, any loo, this loo will do’. I berated myself for my patently false I-can-hold-it-in-for-hours machismo. With each passing minute, I knew the humiliation of publicly wetting myself was drawing near. (Whatever, nonchalance. Whatever, nonchalance.) We were 10 minutes away when we waited for an age at the traffic lights and I wondered if this was the day I would have to squat and pee at traffic lights. I remember wanting to ask the auto driver: Do you live near here, like a minute away, and could you take me to your home to pee? Is there someone you know who lives close by who would be so kind as to let me use their loo? Do you know if there is a hotel close by I could stop at? Would it have a loo? But, I was speechless. Another set of lost non-opportunities.
In what seemed like an act of divine intervention, I spotted a construction site with a half completed structure arise like a phoenix in no-public-toilets-for-women-Bangalore. I stopped the auto and rushed in hoping I could find a secluded corner to pee. It was 7pm or so, so surely no one would be there? I entered the building and there was a family of construction workers staring at me. Of course. I had charged into their home. I asked pleadingly if I could use their loo. ‘Urgent’. What happened next is now a sepia coloured glorious memory.
I was swiftly and wordlessly led to a toilet whose construction was almost done. Oddly, it had no door. After the fact, there were many questions about the door-less loo. Did they not use the loo when they clearly resided there? Had the door not been done yet? Was the door purposefully not fitted in yet, so it would not be used? Did the owner check? But these were after-thoughts, after I was long gone from there, and the urgency of that pee had receded into memory. In the there and then, a most gentle man with super human speed, a hero, got a large wooden plank and held it as a make-shift door for me, and I peed, brimming with gratitude for small acts of random human kindness.
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Anu Elizabeth Roche, Poet
I used to be a bit of a bed-wetter as a kid and often needed to constantly use the bathroom, so being in a state where I desperately want to empty my bladder – but can’t – brings back all those awful embarrassing memories. And then there’s the everyday reality of walls smelling of pee, with absolutely no embarrassment from the men who do it. It often angers me how bleeding common the sight of men relieving themselves on the road was (and still is – ah the power of the penis!), while still calling low-waist jeans or the barest hint of cleavage ‘vulgar’.
My clearest memories of travelling interstate as an adult (by bus especially, usually from Bangalore to Kerala) are of clamping my legs together while the men hopped out for a quick piss. Even on the occasions that we did find a public toilet nearby, sometimes at a stop in either Karnataka or Tamil Nadu where there would be a small eatery nearby, the squat toilet was covered in muck, and there were a few flecks of shit around it, and inside the hole (some still floating, unflushed). It had always felt embarrassing for me to confess this, but often on such trips I’d use pads and barely drink water for fear that I wouldn’t be able to hold it in anymore bang smack in the middle of nowhere.
Come to think of it, it does sound a lot like planning a huge part of your travelling experience (and of course, everyday life in a lot of cases) around the requirements of your bladder (and nose). It’s so ironic that we think so much about it, yet from childhood many of us have been to taught to feel shame at even mentioning our private parts. It shouldn’t have to be that way.
(Read Anu’s experiences in verse)
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I did need to pee but more importantly I needed a safe place from the variety of men who were trying to proposition me close to midnight around Churchgate station. I had taken a very long walk around 11pm, alone, all along Marine Drive, from Charni Road station until the turning towards Churchgate. Yes, I was loitering. I was 23 or 24. I was alone. I lived in Andheri, not in the vicinity. And I did not think I was doing anything exceptional. I was safe.
It was the walk towards the station that was fraught. If you have waited at stations for friends you would know that stations are the pick-up places in Mumbai. Be it any time of the day, if you are alone, and waiting, you will be propositioned. With a boyfriend who had a penchant for being late I had been propositioned at every station that had been designated as our meeting place. The moment I got closer to Churchgate station I remembered that I had to have my antennae up.
That night, I got propositioned thrice, by sweet uncles, seedy youngsters, the description did not matter. I hissed an abuse, even sweetly (hoping my sarcasm would shine through) smiled at the uncle and said, ‘No uncle, I am going home’ in response to his, ‘Come with me sweetie’. Instead of rushing into the station and racing toward the train that would roll away, I had planned to wait at the station. It was 11:45pm, I was waiting to hang around until midnight, wanting to surprise the boyfriend who I knew would be headed back around that time. It was the eve of his birthday. We had had a massive fight. In my head that explained everything, but as a I write this I am not sure if you, the reader, think that this is a crazed woman with no sense of self-preservation.
I had 15 minutes and I was too tired to have to fight off uncles and dudes. I stepped into the ladies loo at Churchgate station. I had walked past the smelly loos a million times holding my bladder knowing that I could find a restaurant or office in the area rather than visit, what I assumed would be a filthy loo. Wanting to pee and rest, this time I entered.
I found that I was not the only one with the same idea. There were sex workers, resting, touching up their make up, giggling, chatting. They raised an eyebrow when I walked in. I said I needed to pee because by then I really did need to pee. I had my periods so my bladder felt it was going to bleed away. I added that there were too many men trying to pick me up. They smiled. I looked quite distinctly like a tired, somewhat undernourished college student type. They were instantly protective. Made space for me to sit on the few stools that were around. I handed my purse to them since there was no place to keep it. The space was wet and my hands would be busy holding the door that had no latch. The pavement dwellers from outside the station used this time to bathe their kids and wash their clothes. The floor was swirling with soapy suds. A toddler was being bathed vigorously at the tap outside the toilet I chose to enter. I squatted as a sense of security that one experiences only in a domestic space overwhelmed me. My bloodied urine swirled into the drain along with a young child’s bath water.
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Nina Subramani, Documentary Filmmaker
I am a ’70s child, more specifically a ’70s girl child. This was the decade when there were no public lavatories. My mother would push us onto the road in the path of speeding lorries and buses to prevent us from stepping onto faeces-ridden pavements. Thankfully, in these enlightened times, you don’t see much of that anymore. (For nostalgia buffs, any beach in Chennai provides you shitty flashbacks at sunrise.)
As I grew older, I learnt to hold. Before taking us to a film, our parents would make us pee and threaten us with dire consequences if we needed a loo break during the film. Even before we knew about sex, we knew about ‘VD’ — the dreaded thing you could get from public loos. My brothers could (and often would) find a tree but once I grew past the stage where my frilly frocks could cover me, I had to hold.
Once on a road trip with my brothers, bumpy roads literally jolted the pee out of me, I had to find a way to go. My intrepid brothers quickly invented the DDT or the double door technique as we liked to call it. The front and rear doors of the car were opened on the left side and I squatted between them, growing dizzy with relief. Once, a common friend (a guy I used to crush on) spotted my brother, stopped ahead of where we had parked and started walking towards us. My older brother in a false show of affection rushed towards him and held him off till I finished.
My career as a documentary filmmaker only strengthened my bladder further (from before sunrise to after sunset). I now live in a country where public loos are as common as windmills. My daughter has never been taught to hold or hover. The parampara of the toughened bladder will end with me.
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Shefali Tripathi Mehta
This past-middle age woman entered the washroom at BIAL (Bengaluru International Airport Ltd, which mind you is a bladder-bursting distance from the city). She was wearing a traditional ghagra, choli, her head covered with an odhini. The uniformed attendant’s antennae caught her on sight. “Sit on the seat.” The attendant hollered from the other end, above heads crowding the limited space. The woman said she only needed to pee. “SIT on the seat!” The attendant was firm. In her anxiety, the woman left the door ajar. She lifted her voluminous skirt, faced the seat, and wondered. Then she turned, her back to the seat, and wondered. Finally, totally at sea about how to do it while ‘sitting on it’, she left without relieving herself. Pee in your pants all!
Are the Eastern style squat toilets that the whole country used not so long ago suddenly so uncool that they cannot be installed in a couple of cubicles at public ‘conveniences’? Is it better to allow a major part of the population such humiliation, distress and watch them make puddles on the roadsides? So even though many a with-it women think it is a crap idea, some mirror-polished malls in the city have graphical illustrations inside the facilities on how a commode should be used by women. And then, when we’ve got them all to learn how to sit on it to pee, we will begin the next lesson of how women must not sit-sit on a public toilet seat.
(Read the full piece)
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To contribute, follow these five simple steps:
Step 1: Read this article. (Please consider sharing it with your friends before you get to step 2.)
Step 2: Try and think if you have any “pee stories”. Pee stories, in this context, are stories from your life where your life could have been a zillion times better if only you had found a (clean, decent, accessible) public toilet.
Step 3: If yes, quickly jot it down. It can even be as short as 40-50 words. Think of it as writing a quick, short email to your friends.
Step 4: Send it to fingerzine (at) gmail (dot) com
Step 5: Find the friends you considered sharing the article with (See step 1). Make them send us their stories as well. Alternatively, you can also share this Facebook post.
(Image credit: Ajay Tallam)