by Vani Viswanathan
He unbuttoned his pants, opened the fly, pulled his briefs down, and whipped his cock out. As the urine began to flow, he threw his head back in a sense of relief. His bladder would have burst if he’d had to wait any longer.
Within seconds, though, he looked straight ahead to the wall he was peeing on. He felt like he was being watched. He gingerly moved his head to the left. Who would watch someone pee?! But there was someone – wait, a woman! A woman. Looking at him. He didn’t know if he should look away, the unabashed way she was looking at him – straight into his eyes, no less, the cheek she had! – disturbed him. When would he be done, why was it taking this long? At long last, he was done, he hurriedly pushed it in, pulled his briefs up, zipped up and buttoned his pants, and quickly left.
As he left, he saw her scribble something in a notebook.
Kamatchi’s silver-rimmed, oval-shaped glasses were slipping off her sweaty nose in the Chennai heat. Her dupatta felt like such a liability, synthetic and pinned on both sides. The cell phone, tied to a long cord, was hanging off her neck. She pushed her glasses back up, and wiped the sweat off with the dupatta – her nose burned.
Near the tea stall, on a wall that says ‘Do Not Urinate Here’.
She was the only woman in the tea stall, and the other men there regarded her with utmost curiosity. Making no attempt to mask their interest, they stared at her as she chewed the blue cap of a Reynolds pen. Their interest, however,changed to disgust when they saw her watch a man urinate and then write in her notebook.
She sat there for two more hours, till the afternoon turned to dusk. Rounds of men sat at the benches and watched, and the teashop owner kept barking at her every other hour to buy something or get the hell out of the place. He shouldn’t have complained, though: the sight of a woman at the teashop was bringing more men in, and they ended up buying a beedi, paaku or a cup of tea and some biscuits. They watched her leave the shop and go to a bus stop nearby and sit there and do the same: watching men pee and then writing something. No man dared to say anything, though. They just watched her, half-amused, half-annoyed, and fully curious.
Eventually, she wandered out of their sight. Kamatchi went on to stand near the men’s urinals at the far end of the road. She simply stood there, watching men see her, go in, pee and leave. She watched a man with a lungi folded halfway up his thigh go in with a bucket and a broom.
At 7.40pm, she snapped out of her reverie. The urinal was not being used anymore because it was pitch dark – it was an open one, with no roof, and there were no streetlights close to it. The men had taken to peeing by the road again, and she had long stopped taking notes.
She took the 11G bus and reached home.
“Adiye!” yelled her mother. “Where were you all this while? What the hell happened to your phone?”
“Phone ran out of charge,” she said, and went outside the house to wash her hands and feet.
“Where were you?” asked her mother again.
Kamatchi walked to the public bathroom at the turn of the road and relieved herself in the cracked, once-white toilet. And suddenly, she burst into tears.
She washed her face and came back home. Her mother was digging into her bag.
“Why is all this unsold?! Did you not sell anything at all today? How much did you manage to make?” asked her mother, pulling out packet after packet of savouries. Murukku, kaara sev, potato chips.
“I sold three packets,” said Kamatchi, pulling out thirty rupees from a crumpled cloth coin purse.
Her mother smacked her fiercely on the back of her head. “And what did you do all day, then?!”
“I watched men urinate.”
Her mother stared at Kamatchi like she had lost her mind. But her daughter was prone to these bursts of weirdness, she had realised long ago.
Kamatchi pulled out the notebook in which she made her accounts of how many packets of what kind of savoury was sold, opened it to a page, and thrust it into her mother’s hands.
Near the tea stall, on a wall that says ‘Do Not Urinate Here’.
Behind the bus stop.
Into an open storm water drain.
The wall next to a police station.
Near a dustbin.
At the turn of a road.
Inside a large cement pipe.
Where the bajjikaaran threw the waste.
Near some cows.
Her mother sighed and threw the notebook to a corner of the tiny room.
“There wasn’t a single place I could pee in. The only public bathroom for women was locked, and no one knew who had the key. All the shopkeepers were men, and they chased me away when I asked them to stock these, and I can’t ask to use their bathroom anyway. I walked the length of the road, and found a mall. But they checked my bag, saw I’m selling this stuff, and didn’t let me enter. They made sure I left the mall grounds so I wouldn’t find the workers’ bathroom either.”
“And so you decided to watch men pee?”
“I saw one pee with abandon outside the mall. One hand on the wall. No thought about looking for a bathroom. No need to shamefully ask anyone. Just unzip the pant, pull it out and done. How do they pick a location, how do they think no one is watching, and why does no one tell them anything? Why was the women’s bathroom locked? And why can’t I pee on the road too??”
Written to recognise the millions of Indian women who have no access to bathrooms, the millions who don’t drink anything all day and wait for the day to turn into night so they can relieve themselves in the dark, outside. And written to make the millions of us realise how lucky we are to be able to avoid using public bathrooms because no mall or five-star hotel will stop us from entering.
Pics : Wikimedia Commons
Vani Viswanathan is often lost in her world of books and A R Rahman, churning out lines in her head or humming a song. Her world is one of frivolity, optimism, quietude and general chilled-ness, where there is always place for outbursts of laughter, bouts of silence, chocolate, ice cream and lots of books and endless iTunes playlists from all over the world. Vani was a Public Relations consultant in Singapore and decided to come back to homeland after seven years away to pursue a Masters in Development Studies. Vani blogs at http://chennaigalwrites.blogspot.com