Not everyone wants to know about toilets – but they should
by Lei

As in America, public toilets in India are few and far between. When you do find one in India it is a gross, vile, cesspit where, at best, your bottom cheeks remain clenched and retreat is advised. The Indian male is however accommodated with tiled splashback urinals that just appear on appointed walls placed throughout the towns and cities with little logic as to their location. Sometimes it is a quiet alleyway, other times, such as in Jaipur, it is within metres of the palace gates. The urinals are nothing but a wall with a catch drain that disappears into a stinking hole in the ground. The shape and form of a pissing man is quite obvious from both the side and rear so with this in mind I attempt to apply a degree of modesty and correctness when using them and try not to urinate where ladies might see my pissing form. The Indian men however show no restraint. We are curious as to how the Indian women fare in regards to public toilets, as none seem to be provided. With this in mind I am still hoping that India doesn’t embrace McDonalds and their McAllo Tikka Burgers though this will unfortunately deny Indian women the widespread convenience of the Golden Arches known to their American sisters.

We had determined that whilst in Nepal and India we would do as the locals do which is to become bottom washers using water and fingers as a cleaning aid rather than paper. Paper doesn't work in the squat toilets as it seems to clog the system. Without paper blockages the toilets seem to keep in a reasonable state but once clogged they become a horrid pile of excreta that continues to build until someone can clear it. All blocked, may I add, by a paper-using tourist in every case. It is interesting to watch the effect of tourism on India through the trail of toilet paper left behind. The main train lines are filled with paper as the tourist plop their way from Delhi to Calcutta or south to Mumbai. In the cities where western toilets are provided toilet paper is prevalent, adding to the congestion in the river as it makes its way to the sea further clogging an already over polluted mess as it goes.

The squat toilets throughout India and Nepal provide water either by tap or by bucket. A small jug allows you to decant water into your hand to squeak yourself clean. Left hand only please. After your first bum wash the trepidation of getting your fingers dirty leaves you. You stand, pleased with yourself, slightly damp but far cleaner than having inadequately smeared the excreta about the cheeks of your bottom with paper. An old Indian saying rings true…"Do you not wash a buffalo with water to remove the dirt rather than smear it over with news paper?"

After spending some time wiping your bum with your fingers you come to realise the variations in the tactility of poo. You are able to recall the barley meal breakfast from the day before, the corn soup that you should have chewed, hard little guava seeds and funnily the incredibly hot curry that made your lips burn and is now burning once again as it says goodbye to your body.

The toilets on an Indian train are not for the faint hearted. The cubicle is the same size as a western one but on entering it you find there is no pedestal. On the floor, to one side, is a moulded stainless steel squat pit with two moulded raised pads on which to place your feet. Between these is a shute ready to accept your deposit or anything that may fall from your pockets. The design of the footpads seems to ensure you gain maximum bum cheek separation by splaying your hips well apart. Indians do not use toilet paper. Around the room are three taps operated by individual push valves, each activated by the press of the heel of the hand. The one across from you as you squat is used to fill your own small bucket of water with which you wipe your bum. You keep topping up your small bucket, balancing precariously as the train shakes and rattles, pouring the water from your right hand into the palm of your cupped left hand allowing the water to trickle down the middle fingers, rubbing away the excrement as you go. It takes practice and balance. From time to time it is possible to splash water on to your clothing and in the case of severe diarrhoea it is also quite easy to shit on yourself, most commonly your shoes but in some cases your clothing. On the wall behind you is another tap. This one is used to "flush" the poo from the stainless steel surface where you just deposited. All this is fine if the water in the toilet cubicle is working. When not available the only option the Indians have is to wipe the poo onto a dry surface, namely the walls. We chose to carry emergency paper for these cases rather than join in with the finger painting contest.