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.
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
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.