Public toilets in India always leave me breathless, with relief and also with lack of air. They also bring to mind the subtle differences between oft misused words such as available and accessibile, by virtue of being inaccessible even when they are available, which is not very often. A curious peek inside one transports the most hardened hearts and most insensitive noses to a well-stocked chemistry lab paying olfactory tribute to Messrs Haber & Bosch. On certain busy days, I’m told one can catch sight of silvery fumes of ammonia dancing the Tango around the feet of relieved gentlemen. A bold step inside one, as Voldemort will confide if you prod him hard enough, will blast your nose to smithereens if you’re foolish enough to breathe while you’re at it.
However, they also reveal the haphazardly stacked quills of courage and mighty reservoirs of misplaced morality inside the most placid looking, puny-chested average Indian, who like a startled porcupine is ready to let go of his inhibitions and give in to the spirit of the moment by recklessly spraying around his deepest fears. Desperately seeking relief from his miserable plight, the conscientious Indian, the model citizen who otherwise has the convenient option of watering and nurturing a young sapling, is ready to prance around puddles and stand in impromptu queues holding his breath to reach that unearthly place called a much-delayed piss.
The English Teacher taught me that some public toilets won’t just haunt your dreams and permanently damage your sense of smell, they can kill you. Seriously. If you don’t believe me, you should talk to RK Narayan. He’s dead but if you really want to, The English Teacher suggests you should be able to manage it. He’ll tell you he wrote a lovely, life-affirming novel after an unfortunate woman who happened to be his wife visited your typical reeking public toilet and died soon after contracting typhoid. It was called The English Teacher.