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Indians Were Masters Of Best Toilet Practices, So Why The Western-Style Retraining?

There’s nothing like a good mug of water to clean up.

24/06/2017 11:57 AM IST | Updated 24/06/2017 12:04 PM IST
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To the best of my knowledge, a large part of Asia and the Middle East use water to wash themselves after using the toilet, although toilet paper is used additionally by some. The practice of not using water is a concept alien to India so I am not sure at what point of time it was espoused by certain establishments in India.

I have often been inconvenienced by the unavailability of water in the toilets of luxury hotels, high-end restaurants and certain other so-called "elite" institutions in India. When I mentioned this to an office colleague, he threw some light on this phenomenon. He said, "Maybe they cater primarily to foreigners so..." Now, when an Indian says "foreigner" he or she typically thinks of someone with white skin. This man had spent two decades in the corporate world and therefore, his DNA was suitably altered by now to justify ludicrous management decisions or decision of any authority. The "foreigners" in that hotel seemed more elusive than tigers in the Forest Reserves of India. I hadn't spotted any in my three days of training. Besides, logic told me that even if the hotel catered to foreigners, they would certainly not take offence to water and toilet paper both being available in the loo. You wouldn't see people running from there screaming, "Oh my God, they have water here." So, after several uncomfortable, itchy training sessions, I decide to write this piece.

Toilet paper is not only environmentally unfriendly but expensive too. Using water is more hygienic and is said to prevent infections. Isn't it time that these Indian establishments also took note?

On a business trip to Shanghai, I discovered for the umpteenth time that there was no bidet in the toilet. So, I decided to call housekeeping to ask for the plastic mugs that are used in Indian toilets. With a huge language barrier, I spent a good 10 minutes conveying to the housekeeping lady that I needed a plastic mug and she did get me one. Except that it was the kind used to drink coffee. I thanked the lady and shut the door. By now, I was feeling exasperated and thought, "Come on, how can they not know what a plastic mug is? All of them have 'Made in China' written at the back and dude, I am in China." Now, this was outside India where perhaps using water may not be part of the toilet culture but back home it certainly is.

For ages, Indians have been rather smug about their superior hygiene practices. There was a code of using toilets (2nd Century AD) mentioned in the Puranas, with detailed steps on how to go about ablutions. Using water was a very important part of this code. For Muslims too, it is imperative to use water after using the toilet, followed by the "wuzu" (ritual washing) only after which one can offer Namaz (prayers). Historian and author William Dalrymple, in his book White Mughals has written that British men were not too enthusiastic about hygiene before coming to India and were taught by their Indian wives and girlfriends to take daily baths. In fact, Indians were so advanced in hygiene that the word shampoo is derived from the Indian word for massage. How's that? So, the point that I am trying to make is that when we have such great hygiene practices in India, shouldn't we continue with those?

It seems that the world is now taking note of the benefits of using water in toilets and several western nations too are switching over. Toilet paper is not only environmentally unfriendly but expensive too. Using water is more hygienic and is said to prevent infections. Isn't it time that these Indian establishments also took note and started providing water in the toilet?

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Indian vs. European toilets

I grew up in India in the late 80s and 90s. The first toilet that I have ever used is a squat or Indian toilet. In my subsequent homes, there was one European and one Indian toilet. And now, the Indian toilet has completely vanished from the urban Indian scene. Over the years, my toilet habits have been suitably "Europeanised" and I am not missing the Indian toilet too much. However, there is a large majority of Indians even now who have never seen a European toilet, leave alone used one. Not only are they not comfortable using it, they could even find it unhygienic. It is important to note that experts say that the squat position relaxes and straightens the rectum and leads to better bowel movements as against a sitting position.

If you are upper middle class and above, urban and sophisticated, you know how to use the European toilet; if not, you are a villager or a small-town simpleton.

Interestingly, types of toilets reveal something about the class divide in India. If you are upper middle class and above, urban and sophisticated, you know how to use the European toilet; if not, you are a villager or a small-town simpleton. So, the Indian toilet is now officially the servant room toilet or the poor person's toilet in urban Indian houses. However, more people are uncomfortable with a European toilet in India than they care to admit. It's personal, though, and no one wants to be ridiculed.

The Indian Railways, living up to its image of the mass carrier of India equips, its railway coaches with both an Indian and a European toilet. However, the airlines and airports have only European toilets. I am not sure what assumptions or technicalities are at play here, but there could be a large percentage of Indian air travellers too who are not comfortable with a European toilet.

Most corporate offices in India too have only European toilets. Last year, the Australian taxation office installed squat toilets in its office as Asian employees faced difficulty in using the Western pot. I think folks at home can take a cue from here. In the spirit of respecting diversity, this is my sincere request to all Indian establishments to provide water in the toilet and wherever possible give people the choice of using an Indian toilet as well.

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