Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Mod Cons

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.


Gayatri said...

- Ouch !!! neck aches nodding to every word in the post:)
- Achu and I have visited every toilet in the city...anyplace we go to Achu HAS to 'inspect' their toilet...and I dread it...'cause 90% of them are bad.
- It's sad India doesn't still provide the BASIC NECESSITIES ...why and how do we scale up until such needs are met??????

artnavy said...

things have not changed in 4 yrs !

Sue said...

Gayatri -- One of the first tangible signs of the recession was fewer bathroom attendants and filthier bathrooms. But there are always excessive parking attendants. Go figure!

Art -- Sadly, something that started out so well is getting worse by the day. It's a real pity.

starry eyed said... described it spot on.

I get even madder when we use public loos and have to pay that goddarned 1-2 rupees and still the facilities make you want to puke.

The worst is actually when it's a loo that has everything, the health faucet, clean, running water, toilet paper, air-dryer...and then you see that someone didn't flush. EWWWWWWW...just to crank one handle, it's that difficult?

dipali said...

Desis and loos:(
The best public loos in Kolkata are in Shoppers Stop, always clean, always well maintained.
Kolkata Airport loos, both domestic and international terminals, are horrendous.
The mall loos vary:(
We also have some very uncivilised loo users, unfortunately:(

Sue said...

Starry -- The attendants at South City defended the state of the bathrooms saying what else can you expect when the users don't leave it clean... I can expect a bigger budget for the toilet maintenance, given that everybody knows how we use the toilets, given that vast numbers of people are always using them, we can expect somebody to clean them on the hour instead of thrice a day, you know?

For so long I've blamed the users but the care can be so shoddy too. In a Coffee World I once came across the filthiest bathroom at 8 pm and the attendant's card behind the door was signed up to 11 pm! It goes both ways but when it comes to the malls I blame the management more because it's all part of handling crowds and they are trained for the job or supposed to be!

Now I'm ranting in the comments. Oops. :)

Dipali -- Shopper's Stop, Forum, do you mean? Shopper's Stop, South City has made me run up a floor and then to the bathroom outside with a younger Rahul although I do cut them some slack because eventually one attendant took pity on me and allowed me to use the staff exit, which is nearer the bathroom.

Cantaloupes.Amma (CA) said...

I hate hate hate using public toilets and my girl HAS to go anytime we are out ... you can imagine my irritable self everytime I walk out of one of those ewwwwwww toilets.

dipali said...

Yes, Forum!
The saddest was going to a brand new ladies loo on Platform 24 or something at Howrah- pretty tiles everywhere, but such a stench:(

Suki said...

You need an "I AGREEEEEEE!!!!" button on your "reactions" panel.

And if you're at Chai Bar, use the Park loo. There's one on the ground floor just behind the black-and-white lobby seating area. My logic is this: if the 2 places share the same owner, they might as well share the same loo-visitors :P. Plus points: clean, and you don't have to cross the road!

Aathira said...

I completely agree with Suki :) You need an ' I agree' button too :)

Loos are such a pain in malls, but I must say that I have seen some better loos in Bangalore malls, and they are usually quite clean with no dripping issues!

Banno said...

And this is the case in up-market places like malls, book stores and metros. Forget about the rest of the country.

Mama - Mia said...

sigh! there are times you wish kids were still diapered! gah!

and its a problem EVERYWHERE in des, isnt it? and i think its still easier for boys and men because if they just wanna pee least they dont have to sit on the filthy seats!

sometimes i feel if they have to give such few toilets in public spaces, they might as well be indian!

Sue said...

CA -- Ugh. Lately I've delegated this entirely to V, so my recent experience was all the more beastly since I've gotten out of the habit!

Dipali -- Yes, Howrah did get some decent toilets but they are always messed up. I really think the city need more cleaners and more cleaning!

Suki -- LOL Come and agree at the comments. I went to Oxford Juniors, so I didn't need to cross the road but yeah, Park was a better idea. My first time at Oxford Juniors, so I really didn't know what to expect.

Aathira -- Now that's good to hear.

Banno -- It pisses me off the most at the upmarket places because they are charging me for the facilities, na. Your comment reminded me of the time Rahul needed to go in Alipore Zoo. No toilet in sight or within running distance so Vicky just held him by a tree. Nobody objected because it's what they all do!

Abha -- You know, our boys are still too short to stand and pee at most Western style toilets so we still have to hold him up in the air and aim. Ah, the joy.

Only Indian style public loos have been suggested to me before but where would that leave the old or the fat who cannot bend any more?

Aneela Z said...

You have to understand it is all part of the desi psyche (of denial)...
We Dont Have Sex.

and now we dont pee.

Sue said...

Aneela -- Nor do we wash our hands, clean up vomit or food stains or...!