Monday, April 21, 2008

That’s not my seat!!!

The nose-burning stink and shoe-spoiling urine mix water on the floor will readily overwhelmed your senses as soon as you enter any Indian public urinals. The experience is so frightening and torturing that sometimes I just prefer holding “the pressure” back despite of serious risks to health. I can easily use open public space to relieve myself – a lonely lane, an open drain, or a long wall, or trees or shrubs to hide myself – but I abhor relieving myself there. Sometimes, if things are beyond my control I end up choosing natural open spaces over public urinals to avoid the stench and filth.

The abject condition of toilets is partly due to government negligence and partly due to lack of social awareness or civic-sense in public. It is debatable but I think that literacy and education are two different things. Civic sense starts from home and cannot be learnt at school by attending one course in twelve academic years. Anyway, my intention here is not to debate on it. People (public) constitute of diverse groups from different religions, age, and income group. Therefore, it becomes difficult to analyze their patterns regarding to toilet usage.

In this post, I am going to talk about the employees of my company. Almost 98% of them hold engineering degree or a graduate degree. All are making good money and are exposed to global culture. They are working on complex projects and producing high quality work. No wonder, they are the bright talents of upcoming India. My company is located in national capital (Delhi), therefore, they are also eligible to be called as cosmopolitan.

However, when it comes to civic-sense these so called “IT-professionals” get really bad marks. Despite of working in a demanding global environment, someone needs to teach them toilet-etiquettes.

Toilet Seats

Indian toilets (Squat Toilets) are different from western toilets and many Indians find problems adjusting themselves to western seats. Since childhood (exceptions apart), all their lives, people are brought up with Indians seats. One fine day, when they join an American multinational company, they are faced with a great dilemma of giving away this traditional practice and suddenly adopt the western one. Some people easily embrace it, while others find it difficult. Since most offices have only Western toilets, they end up using western toilets in Indian style, and when this happens, the situation becomes really nasty and perplexing for the Indian user.

Imagine a scenario when a user goes to western toilet. He suffers extreme ergonomic discomfort while using western toilet in Indian style. He invariably leaves stains and shoe-marks on toilet seat while doing so. Once done, he needs water instead of paper to clean him. Paper is not considered as “Indian” and it is untidy religiously. The usage of water makes the whole toilet wet. When he leaves the toilet, he also forgets to wipe off the shoe stains from the toilet seat.

The management seems confused. It has provided both paper and water in toilets. I still wonder whose idea it was? The user remains confused whether to use water or paper? Removing water and leaving paper roll is a good solution but some people might not like it.

Most of the offices have forgotten to provide users with disposable paper toilet-seat-cover to maintain hygiene. How would management know, when they have not experienced a true western style toilet themselves throughout their lives?


Urinals face another kind of problem. Some Indians are habitual of chewing Paan (betel leaf) or Paan Masala (betel leaf mixture). When they go to toilet, they end up spitting it in the urinal because they are too lazy to do it in the wash-basin. Even wash-basin is not made for spitting such kind of thing. Chewing gum is another common thing that ends up in urinals blocking fluids there.

Most Indian (I don’t have numbers) men spit in urinals after they are relieved. I have no idea why do they do it? I am still trying to figure out this. May be, my father missed teaching me something important and cultural - to spit after being done with the job. I used the term "cultural" because I see it happening everywhere. At least fifty percent times I have seen people spitting in urinals after they get done with the job. I wonder if this happens in other countries also.

To counter all this, the management at office has decided to educate users. They have put a label reading:

“Please do not spit/ Throw a chewing gum/ Tobacco etc. in the urinal”

Please see the picture above for more details and do not forget to notice the dangling room-freshener on one of the screws. Did designer leave that screw for the same purpose.

Hope it will help bring some urinal civic-sense to the users. However, the toilet seat problem remains as is.

This clearly demonstrates what happens when we try to fit a product forcefully in a foreign environment. Hope one day we will be able to respect all cultures.

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