Before the kids came, or more specifically, before the kids began to be toilet trained, I hardly ever used public restrooms.

As an aside, why on earth are they called rest rooms? The thought of actually resting there is hardly appealing. Relief rooms I could understand – if you find one when you urgently need one, it is certainly with a sense of overwhelming relief – but why rest rooms?

And, for that matter, the public ones are not even “bathrooms” – not unless you happen to be in, say, an international airport lounge or some such place.

As for “conveniences”… certainly finding a toilet when you need it is a lot more “convenient” than not finding one… but… can the toilet itself be considered “convenient”? I don’t think so!

Like I said, public toilets weren’t on my beat much in the “good” old days. If I absolutely had to use one, I preferred an Indian style one, where physical contact with any surface was restricted to shoes on the ground. (For the uninitiated, Indian style toilets, or squatty pots, consist of a hole in the ground, with a porcelain bowl sunk in it, and a sort of platform for placing the feet. They do usually have some kind of flush rigged up, but it’s anybody’s guess whether or not it will work. In this respect, though, they are no worse than any other toilet in a similar location.)

On those rare occasions when I had to use a western style toilet in a public place, I of course practised my patented technique of hovering six vertical inches above the toilet seat, so effectively actual physical contact remained limited to shoes on the ground.

In Indian style toilets, the ground is usually wet, and you never can tell what proportion of it is water and what is pee. So you assume the best, fear the worst, tell yourself it’s only the shoes, and only the soles at that, and get on with the job.

In western style toilets, the floor might be less wet and disgusting, but the toilet seat has all the potential to more than make up for it. Even the six-vertical-inch-hover tactic often doesn’t seem like enough.

Either way, limiting physical contact doesn’t do much to contain the stink.

Nor do I think that public toilets are better anywhere else around the globe. You might find halfway bearable occurrences in the more high-class establishments like star hotels; or, for instance, at a shopping mall you might get lucky and reach the restroom just after it’s been cleaned; but in general, the best option is to simply avoid toilets outside home whenever you can.

All that changed when I started toilet-training the kids. Suddenly, after all the luxurious safety of diapers, I needed to be able to rush one – or, more likely, two – kids with critical bladder situations to the bathroom – like, RIGHT NOW! In those days there was no time to look at the bathroom and consider its level of cleanliness or hygiene.

Things are better now – in a manner of speaking. I still have to take the kids to the toilet in public places way too often. But now their every toilet request is not a crisis in the making. They can wait a few minutes while we get to the toilet, wait for it to get freed up, wait for me to do some kind of sanitising of the toilet seat…

In all of which I get to see up close and OFTEN exactly how gross public toilets really are.

And then, they started school.

Their school has squatty pots in miniature, more convenient for kids than the adult-size ones. The bathrooms are common for small boys and girls. Cubicle doors can’t be locked and don’t extend right down to the floor. Not all kids have learnt to close the cubicle doors behind them when they go, so the anatomy lesson is thrown in gratis.

A few days after the kids started school, I had taken them to the toilet before leaving, something I still insist upon before every drive or outing.

Tara went in and squatted, and… She slipped. Eeeks! Her right foot landed in the bowl!

It could have been worse… (do you need me to draw a picture?)

Then Mrini went, and neglected to hold up her skirt properly.

One day, Mrini, influenced by seeing how little boys pee, decided to try doing it standing up. Naturally, it ran down her legs. Ugh! And I had to load her into the car and take her home. Ugh ugh ugh!

But worse was in store for me.

The flushes in these cubicles don’t always work. I think the flush tanks just run out of water, with so many small kids going so often. There are taps in each cubicle and small buckets. So often the floor is wet either due to water running from over-flowing buckets, or from the water being used by the helpers to wash the floor.

Why wash the floor?

I saw one of the older girls – maybe 4 or 5 years old – walk into the stall and pee on the ground. Not near the toilet, not even in the correct orientation to the toilet, just right there on the floor near the door.

And the next kid who comes in wouldn’t know! They might not even think about it.


So what can you do? Close your eyes; close your mind; get your kids home and give them a bath; ignore the worst and assume the best, and hope they get through it all somehow, without catching any horrible diseases…


19 Responses to Conveniences

  1. Supriya says:

    Ugh! Lord what am I in for later this year! 😦
    I can so identify with all the toilet description that you have written about so eloquently. I have even been asked to actually pay for one such stinky totally horrible toilet on the way to Coorg. A big reason I want to avoid all long distance bus travel.

  2. AM says:

    I like the type of rest room which we encounter while trekking in Ladakh. Go into an enclosure and let loose and it just falls down and then you go and put dust on it. But nothing like just wandering off amongst the bushes and have the grass tickle your bottom. The possibilities of resting are almost infinite.

  3. Prakash says:

    Are you saying this in a school? This is disgusting…

  4. mrwhatsit says:

    Mika, I’d send this in a private message, but wordpress doesn’t seem to allow for the possibility.
    I’d like to invite you as a friend to my Multiply site, but I’m not sure how. The URL is

    Actually, anyone reading this is invited. I’m new to the site, and short on contacts/ friends.

    I haven’t read your above entry on washrooms (as we call ’em) yet, but will when time permits.

    My apologies for barging in with an extemporaneous comment, but I couldn’t find any alternatives.

    Hope your weekend is going well:)

    Doug H / MrwhatSit/ MrwhatZit

    Ps- if the above link doesn’t get you to my site, going to and typing in Mrwhatzit’s Site might do the trick.

  5. mrwhatsit says:

    ps – you’ve got to join the free site to have access to more than a minimal view of it’s contents. That may constitute a barrier, I realize, since managing one site is often very time consuming. But, if you should decide to join, you’ll find it’s a relatively simple process; and the site itself is second only to the original yahoo.360 in concept and design, I think.

  6. poupee97 says:

    Doug: I am connected to you on Multiply already. Only, I hardly ever sign-in there. But I did check in yesterday and found you hadn’t posted anything recently! So… start writing! I’ll try and remember to drop by from time to time. You can nudge me every so often.

  7. Interesting how such a common practice of a universally necessary activity can vary so much from place to place.
    Well, Chicago has a large Indian population (among many others), so I guess that explains the shoe prints on the toilet seat covers.

    This reminds me of the Chinese and other Asian countries. Somebody invented forks and spoons a whle back – you don’t have to use stick to pick up your food with, anymore.

    Mika, I’ve never heard of anyone picking up a disease from sitting on a toilet seat, with the exception of my father back in about 1921. He got a case of the crabs. And made the unfortunate choice of applying white gasoline to the affected area. It killed the creepy crawlers, but also made him jump so high that his head might have penetrated the ceiling.

    Nowadays, many public washrooms provide seat-covers, made of some strong, sanitary, paper stuff, that comes out of a dispenser and can be placed on the toilet seat before commensing one’s activities, secure in the knowledge that one is not being exposed to any diseases.
    (Actually, squatting over the seat is not a custom limited to Indians….my ex-brother in law came from Peru, in South American, and practiced the same technique.)
    In any case, I prefer the western style of seat covers. I’ve never contracted a disease from using one, and there’s no possibility of slippage, and dunking one’s entire foot into the bacteria laden swamp below. (Yow, what an unpleasant concept!)

    As for “pee”, also known in medical dictionarys as “urine”, you can feel safe in the knowledge that, having just been filtered through the kidneys, is nearly 100% sterile. You could literally drink the stuff with no ill effects – which makes for a distasteful mental image, to be sure, but it’s true.
    (I doubt that Starbucks will be serving up any ‘pee- frappacino’s in the near future, however.)

    You say we’re already connected on Multiply? But you’re not on my list of contacts. Am I on your list of contacts? How do I get you to be there? My number of contacts is rather sparse at the moment. I could use a new friend on there, but don’t understand how to send you an invitation. If you know the secret, please help!

    Good luck in the continuing process of toilet training, which can be quite an experience, from what I’ve heard, in any country you happen to have been born in.

  8. Arun says:

    Tell me any one building/hotel in India which has a proper fulfilled toilet.. having everthing a toilet should have..the working basin & flush/sprayer/tissue roll/towel/hanger/ventilator/mirror/wash/soap and more importantly enough space to do all these stuff and come out fresh! 🙂
    ..and mind you, the term ‘public toilet’ has a whole lot of new meaning when you are in a real public place like a bustand or a railway station..! 😉

  9. poupee97 says:

    Doug: Of course we don’t get any such seat-covers anywhere in India – not even in classy offices or hotels.

    As far as getting diseases from toilets goes… well, logically, you should be able to pick up bacterial infections, if you have any kind of a cut or abrasion on your skin that comes in contact with somebody else’s urine. But if you say you can’t, that’s fine with me… only, I don’t want me or the kids getting that close to somebody else’s urine anyway, even if it is 100% pure – it’s still pee! I think it’s inbuilt to have a healthy distaste for things excretory.

  10. poupee97 says:

    Oh, and, apologies for the super-late response. I’ve thought this so many times, but just not when I was near the computer. 🙂

  11. ok, thanks for the info.
    Yes, I’ve heard from dr’s that urine is very nearly sterile, but then again, as you say, how close do you really want to get to somebody elses ‘excretory’… um, items.

    Sounds like there’s a huge market in India for those flushable paper toilet seat covers. I’m surprised that some enterprising company hasn’t tapped into it yet. Hmmm, let’s see. There’s a billion people in India, so there must be at least 100 million toilets…at a $20 profit per paper-cover dispenser, that would be……

    Hey, everybody hang on! I’ll be right over!

  12. On second thought, expecting a billion people to refrain from using the facilities until I can ship over and install 100 million sanitary-seat-cover dispensers might be asking too much.

  13. Say…in Indian schools, aren’t there separate washrooms for boys and for girls?

    If so, I wish I’d gone to school in India. Not having any siblings, it would have saved me years of curiousity.

    Here they are always separated by gender, as are washrooms for adults. (Are adult washrooms there “unisex” also?)

  14. poupee97 says:

    Doug: LoL! Regarding number of toilets v/s number of heads, let me disillusion you. Vast tracts of this country don’t have toilets with seats. In the villages, the “toilets” are the fields. (Our veg are very healthy, though.) And as for finding people actually willing to pay for toilet seat covers or anything like that – a few malls and hotels might pay, but I doubt even 1% of individual users would pay. We have some pay-n-use public toilets here, they’re not used too often as far as I can tell. And that’s at Rs2 per use (compared to would you say $25 or so for a paper toilet seat cover dispenser thingy?) You’d better scale your market down to about 1000 or so toilets. If that.


    As for separate washrooms – there are, of course. This arrangement is for the under-six-year-olds. I was a little surprised, actually, though I have to say it must be much more convenient this way for the staff. Also for the kids, some of whom might still be confused about “boy” versus “girl”. The other toilet area in their school, which serves for some of the other Montessori classes as well as some of the primary classes are separate though. Maybe this was just a space-saving afterthought. Still, from the curiosity perspective, an easy way of getting them kids acquainted with fundamental gender differences without making a big deal of it.

    Unisex washrooms for adults? No way!

  15. darn, darn, darn. 😦

    Now I won’t get to be a gazillionaire. 😦

    As for unisex washrooms for adults, what was I thinking? India doesn’t even allow people to kiss in movies. (or so it’s said over here.)

    Besides, most people, by the time they’re all grown up, have figured out the difference between males and females, so there wouldn’t be any benefit.

    (I do like the idea for very young children, though, for the reasons you stated.)

  16. p.s. – Finally got around to watching “slum dog millionaire.” It’s a very good movie.

    I hadn’t expected it to be a love story in disguise.

    I’m a sucker for a good love story. But boy, did that guy have to endure a lot before being able to finally get his true love!

  17. poupee97 says:

    Doug: “Love story in disguise”! Just about all our Bollywood movies could be described that way. 😀 (Except for Wednesday that I wrote about recently.) I didn’t like Slumdog much… not for the reasons that so many people took against it (the depiction of poverty etc) but just because I felt the characters and situations were unrealistic and two-dimensional. I guess it’s a complaint I have with many Bollywood productions. Glad you enjoyed it, though.

  18. Anonymous says:

    The only part of it I didn’t understand was why the police – if that’s who they were – were allowed to take him in and torture him, just on some off-chance that he might be cheating on the game show.

    Do the police over there actually indulge in such practices?

    Torture isn’t allowed here, at least not by the police. It isn’t effective, except for extracting false confessions.
    Anyone will confess to anything to get the torture to stop.

  19. poupee97 says:

    Doug (Anonymous?): Well, Bollywood… you take it with a fistful of salt. The cops are not known to be very moral or ethical here, but whether they’d get involved in a game show or not…? It would probably depend on who knows whom and what the stakes are. Torture is a strong word to use, but a little bit of “roughing up” by the police wouldn’t surprise anyone. As for false confessions – the general belief is that for most of the regular crimes, cops pretty much know who did what. Obviously, that doesn’t work for this story, but nobody questions the reality quotient of Bollywood flicks very much.

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