Kishore Singh: Bhanot's inconvenient truth

Last Updated: Fri, Oct 01, 2010 20:10 hrs

Statutory warning: if you are squeamish about things scatological, read no further. What this column is going to devote itself to this week is all manner of affairs chee-chee, and if you don’t have the stomach for it, you shouldn’t be in the capital city of the rising economic powerhouse called India. If you ever book an early morning train with a window view into or out of the city then you’d have to be blind to not see the millions of bottoms going about what we delicately call ablutions. Right out there, the droppings of well-digested meals or upset stomachs are on full display — but it’s okay, go ahead, the waiter wants to know whether you’d like an Indian breakfast or a Continental one. And no, suppress that churning in your stomach — the loo at the end of the coach will make you wish for the freedom, if not the anonymity, of being able to heave-to on the tracks.

We make a hoo-ha about personal cleanliness but would you accept your next cup of coffee if you were intimate with the personal habits of the server and where he goes for his, er, ablutions, and where and how he washes up after? There’s comfort in not knowing, which is why we’ve learned to live without seeing, or talking, about what’s out in the open. But now Commonwealth Games organising committee official Lalit Bhanot has thoughtlessly, even callously, blown the lid off the whole business with his My Hygiene vs Your Hygiene debate, making us address the loo-going habits of our 5,000-year-old civilisation instead of simply doing it against some equally ancient relic.

To cut to the chase, what do you do when staying in those fancy hotels — no, not the suites which might at least have bidets, but the five-star executive rooms that supply only toilet rolls? Do you have a moment of disquiet before saying what the heck and purloining the toothbrush holder for the purpose? Or do you carry your frequent flying plastic mug in the deep recesses of your bag — let no valet find it there and expose you as nothing but a sham brown sahib — wrapped in polythene so it won’t taint your spiffily laundered clothes? Do you ever wonder how those suits in the board room manage in the absence of a similar lack of facilities? Or why our business hotels owned and managed by Indians fail to provide what they are all familiar with but embarrassed to acknowledge outside the privacy of their own homes?

What we require are sterilised faucet heads ahead of sterilised toilet seats, since we’re likely — as we’ve been taught — to perch feet first, we’re so fussy about the bottom that occupied the space ahead of ours. Can we honestly say we care about hygiene when we provide no facilities for our armies of caretakers, our chauffeurs and guards, our plumbers and carpenters, cooks and ayahs, our neighbourhood presswallahs and paanwallahs, nor caring (or daring) to wonder where those hands went before they touched the cigarettes and cookies we accept from them?

How often have we seen choked toilets in restaurants, the sight of empty soap dispensers in even three-star hotel washrooms, the absence of public toilets on busy roads? Do shops, restaurants, schools, colleges, offices even care to provide basic facilities for the number of people who will use them? Can we truly say that a stomach upset ranks less than an attack of flu when it comes to considerations of attending office?

Different hygiene standards? Yes, of course we have them — and are proud of it. We’re happier to let the stomach-churning truth lie unnoticed and unattended which is why we’re persecuting Lalit Bhanot instead of congratulating him for venturing out with the truth.

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