Tag Archives: public convenience

10 Public Convenience

We’ve exhausted our enthusiasm for debate on the virtues and vices of the welfare state.  It was bound to happen sooner or later. I am talking about the inevitability of having to visit a ‘public convenience’. Here it is labelled simply, ‘latrine’. Visions of rural Chinese toilets flash uncomfortably across my mind. With trembling and trepidation, we 3 girls set off across the street. At the entrance to the Ladies, a young girl hassles us for the toilet fee, “5 rupees each, sister.” It was outrageous. We give her a 10 rupee note for 3. She complains. We march on in. As it turns out, we were scammed by the 13 year old. Toilets in India are supposed to be free. 

Gingerly sniffing, we turn the corner – I’ve got to say it’s not very often that one navigates by the olfactory system. Usually it’s to track down food, not its opposite. In the open courtyard, there is a drain with some taps spitting and dripping quite wastefully. The cubicle doors are brilliant blue and in the beginning stages of rotting. As luck would have it, the loo turns out to be as serviceable as those in Sanlitun, Beijing or the older coffee shops on the North-South highway in Malaysia. We are duly impressed, but that’s not really saying much. Err…. no photos for this post.

9 Playing Tourists

A beautiful dawn in Bihar   




A beautiful dawn in Bihar


Dick had persuaded me to use Chnnu’s car service to do a tour of the local sites. Chnnu owns the tiny Magadh General Store; all shops in Bodhgaya are tiny. The driver Ashok turns up blasting his horn at 5.45 in the morning. Mezz and I were ready but Kylie had a bit of a problem getting it together. She presently crawls into the Sumo jeep with her shoes in one hand and her pillow in the other. We pick up Kathryn at the Root Institute and set off. Rural India had already awaken and attending to the calls of nature in the fields. Mezz, the Aussie cameraman says, “I still can’t work out where the women go to the toilet.” “It bothers you too?” I felt oddly comforted. “I want a cup of tea” whined Kylie who was doing a really bad job of trying to get comfortable.

The Sumo jeep had static benches with no headrests, no shock absorbers, no seatbelts. These shortcomings were compensated with an obnoxiously loud horn that our driver puts to good use. Indians appear to navigate mainly by sound. Ashok uses both the accelerator and the brakes with alacrity and equanimity. After passing through a few horribly dusty towns, we hit the long stretch of road that had more potholes than road. I blew up my neck pillow, put my ear plugs in and tried to relax into it to practice “avoiding the second arrow”.

Bihari potholes, I mean, road

Bihari potholes, I mean, road

Two and a half hours later we pass a sign that read ‘Do not have sex with strangers’ and arrive at a little town where the shops have signs in Japanese and the stonework of yonis and lingams abound. Ashok pulls into a spot under a tree and we slowly unfurl and slide out. Our internal organs feel like they have been rearranged somewhat. Beggars half-heartedly tail us. Accustomed to this we casually stretch our aching parts as we stroll to the Green Hotel for tea and breakfast. Our orders come and Kylie decides that her egg sandwich is foul and feeds it to Mezz. She then orders a Marsala omelette having solicited an ‘all clear’ wrt the omelette from us. Thus satiated, she pulls out a pack of Marlboros. So much for her lectures about brown rice and not poisoning your body with DEET. We argue a little about the virtues of the welfare state.

1 Day in Delhi


Sadhu and his holy cow

Sadhu and his holy cow


I have just come to India with no exact plan in mind, and now the fun starts.
March 4th
I’ve arrived in New Delhi and got picked up from the airport (as arranged) by the guesthouse people with whom I was staying. I didn’t really want to arrive in the death of night in the chaos of Delhi and have to fight my way pass the outrageous taxi-wallahs to get to the guesthouse, or not.  
My previous impression of this vast and chaotic place holds firm. It is noisy, dusty, smelly, dirty but full of interesting moments, many are picture perfect but one has got to be fast with the camera. I’m just spending the day getting acquainted with my immediate environment in Connaught Place, the middle of Delhi. A number of touts come up and try to strike up a conversation or offer help. The trick is to stride purposefully even though one has no idea of where one is going, I’m quite a natural at that. The rambling, crumbling buildings and lively street markets are really great. The immense train station with its multitudes (all with suitcases on their heads) is national geographic material. It’s just too much of a hassle to whip out the camera and dodge bikes, rickshaws, auto-rickshaws and wave touts away at the same time. For respite, I duck into bookshops and restaurants. 
Tomorrow I take a half day tour with the official tourism authority of Delhi and then head out to bodhgaya on the overnight train, 2nd class air-con, booked over the internet, fairly painless. Equally painless was the picking up of the ticket from room 17 of the railways reservation complex (it was quite a complex), but I noticed the conspicuous absence of computers from desks. I had to fill up a form and watch the guy transcribe the information into 2 different notebooks, by hand, and then pull out an envelope from the stash in his desk. It was postmarked, so perhaps the ticket was issued at yet another railway complex.   

There seems to be an abundance of structures called “public convenience” around the place, but only for men, where do the women pee? Granted, there aren’t that many women walking the streets of Delhi.

Oh, and my room at the C.H. Chaudhary Guesthouse for Paying Guests is one of those projects made by the guy who graduated last in architect school. There are 2 sets of electrical switches by the shower, and in general there are 4 or 5 times more switches in the room than there are gadgets. The building is leaning dangerously and there are no windows. It was recommended by the Lonely Planet guide for India and was cheap. 

Had a nice chapatti lunch and some lassi, and I’m now waiting to see if I get the famous Delhi-belly. My doctor in Singapore has armed me with lomotil and rehydrating salts just in case.

In many ways Delhi reminds me of Beijing. It is a city doing what over-populated, under managed cities do. Everyday she cranks away, belching smoke and oozing sludge, striving to accommodate all and sundry, from the teeming populous to the gawking foreigners to the orange roped sadhu and his holy cow. But where the Beijing aura is a grey brown, Delhi’s is a golden brown.