This morning on the Metro, there was a sudden commotion as my train was entering the station. A family group, complete with a boy maybe Rahul’s age or younger, had set the youngster down by the edge of the platform to pee. Naturally, the pee trickled towards the inside of the platform rather than the tracks, since that’s the way the child faced, and people were calling for security.
It was dangerous too, because the train was just coming in.
Funnily enough, I was more indignant at the authorities not providing a single bathroom in any Metro station (that I know of) than I was at the lack of hygiene. Forget a child whose control may not be so strong, as an adult in distress I once needed to use the loo badly and not only would they not let me into the staff loo (despite my red-faced explanation) they wanted me to climb up to the main road and walk a little way to the public toilet there. Of course, they were well within their rights to refuse me admittance and yet, when designing the Metro, was it so hard to allow for a small toilet on the platform and a couple outside?
The lack of convenient public toilet facilities is one of the big hurdles we face when we take Rahul out.
Yesterday we were lunching at the Oxford Chai Bar on Park Street when he needed to go. In Oxford Bookstore, this means you have to clamber downstairs, get out of the store, walk a couple of shops down to the children’s store, go right into the deep end of that (involving a few stairs, not the best idea for wee bladders) and then stand there minute after agonizing minute because some employee is hogging it. (It’s the only loo in there, I’m told.) When he finally emerged, Rahul and I walked in to find a decent-sized bathroom that had no towel or tissues, that had a dirty countertop around the basin and potty seat was dripping water (I hope.)
Another time the children's section loo was unavailable because of some remodelling so I had to sprint back to the main bookstore and insist they allow Rahul to use the staff loo there unless they wanted to clean their floors shortly thereafter.
Mothercare in Madras (T Nagar) was my introduction to the idea that a store could set aside a little space in which a mother may change, clean or feed an infant in dignity and comfort. It made good business sense, of course, because my parents ended up spending a fortune there just because it was easy to take Rahul to. When South City Mall opened up near our place I was delighted with the well-appointed toilets and the children’s changing rooms. But now the bathrooms there are a disaster. Some genius did away with the hygiene showers, substituting those little metal pipes under the seat that threaten to sodomise you. None of the hand dryers work, nor have they worked in ages. Soap may or may not be available, ditto paper towels and tissue. The children's rooms have never had any seating despite there being plenty of space for a couple of chairs so any feeding parent would have to do it standing up.
Outside, they have removed the seats that made shopping trips that little bit easier on achy grandparents. The original, smooth parking structure has been refashioned into a different route that now involves sharp turns and frequent confusion for non-regulars. The escalators no longer go both ways at each point. I mean, you have to trudge from one end of the mall to the other if you want to stop going up and wish to go down instead. Earlier you just had to walk across the atrium or, at the back, just switch sides.
And then they wonder why the footfalls decrease. I thought the whole point of the new economic regime was to get us young families out, spending money. Get the kids to the shops so that they could make demands the parents wouldn’t be able to resist. Get the grandparents to take the kids out shopping. Encourage people to travel so as increase the ticket sales. As long as stations, stores and restaurants think it’s fine to set up shop without decent bathroom facilities, at the very least, I don’t see how we are going to stop people using the road. Or, as the case may be, Metro platforms.