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When the truth stinks

Toilets as tiny as a pigeonhole that would trigger sudden claustrophobia and dirty cleaning equipment breathing out a miasma of disgust are typical scenes that I come across during my weekend jaunts


Suresh Pattali

Published: Thu 24 Feb 2022, 4:41 PM

Last updated: Thu 24 Feb 2022, 6:45 PM

It doesn’t rain in Mumbai, it pours. And when it pours, the city gets refreshed, blah, blah, blah. So says a tourism literature about the metropolis.

Gets refreshed? Excuse me. That’s not what a 21-year-old migrant from the south, heart full of dreams and eyes full of mirth, witnessed as he escaped to the city from a bloody cycle of political violence in his home state. While his nostalgic nostrils braced to smell the grassy petrichor from his pastoral past, a fierce monsoon littered the streets with fecal sludge and filled the air with gut-wrenching odour.

As a sea of crap inundated his dwelling place in Kurla, an industrial suburb in Mumbai, the wannabe journalist scribbled on a yellow post card addressed to his former comrades: “Bombay is a big toilet.” Which he later called home-sweet-home for a decade — one of the vicissitudes of his life — with a ration card issued in his name. But this and many more imageries of abject poverty still haunt him. They hack at his patriotic certitude.

One of his former colleagues, a Singaporean of Indian origin, was all excited about visiting India. That was soon after the dotcom burst but India was still on top of the chart. He was rightly warned by colleagues against harbouring great expectations. On his return, how he summed up the passage to the roots was agonising.

“I saw women excreting outside the runway when the plane landed at Santa Cruz. I saw them doing the same stuff when the plane took off.”

“Don’t be so mean.”

“Hello, think about my anguish when the vignettes I carried in my chest for 50 years came down like a shattered glass.”

That was old Bombay. Lots of water and — sludge — had since flowed under the bridge. Have things changed now? Yes, according to a friend in Mumbai. He says open defecation has come down drastically after clampdowns, but public toilets are still hell on earth. This column is not meant to pillory Mumbai or India. Truth hurts; stinks in this case. But it’s time we looked inward and put things into perspective.

Fast forward to the present. Dubai, to be precise. A visit to the washrooms of some Indian restaurants here whip up the distasteful memories of the Bombay days. To all intents and purposes, your favourite restaurant is an extension of your home, so it’s natural that you expect the place to be spic and span, especially in an era where hygiene fortifies our defence against the deadly coronavirus.

I always believed the kitchen and the washrooms are the sanctum sanctorum of a living space. Having lived in 30 odd houses in different countries, I know where to look while inspecting a house to rent. I never take more than five minutes to make up my mind. All it takes is a peep into the kitchen and washrooms where you can listen to the heartbeat of a home. Where you can converse with the soul of the nest. I don’t give a damn about other areas like bedroom and living which can be groomed to our taste.

We expect the same level, if not more, of hygiene in a place where we pay through the nose to dine. A restaurant experience needs to rise beyond the grandeur of the exterior stucco. Even beyond satiating the palate. The last thing we expect at a dining place is an old Bombay in monsoon. I have been to popular restaurants in star hotels where weekend crowds, including women and kids, were left in the lurch because the washing area got flooded after a couple of hours and tissue papers floated in the leaking waters. It’s a frequent sight at some of the eateries.

I have seen a high-profile restobar where gents toilet with a broken faucet was closed down for weeks and men and women were forced to share the ladies room. Toilets as tiny as a pigeonhole that would trigger sudden claustrophobia; constantly wet floors in the washing area; and dirty cleaning equipment breathing out a miasma of disgust are typical scenes that I come across during my weekend jaunts.

If you can spend millions on the facade, a few thousands more on right bathroom ambience and hygiene will only add to the goodwill more than an exotic mural, an iPad that takes orders and a QR code that springs the menu card.

It’s the mindset that we have long been used to. Being house proud, we scrub the utensils to sparkle but throw the waste out the window. We clean our frontage but dump the dirt in the backyard where we spend most of our time.

Wifey refuses to wash her hands after dining at restaurants, using tonnes of tissues instead to wipe her hand clean.

“It’s bad manners. Please go and wash,” I always chide her.

“What do you want me to do? Go to the wash and let the whole thing gush out?” She would silence me with a counter.

We live in a metropolis where more than 200 nationalities live and work, most of them having a liking for the exotic Indian cuisine. Should we let the goodwill leak through a broken faucet? Chicanery never pays in the long run. It would stay inside the discerning diner like a lump of uncooked meat.

Give me less rice, less dal, less meat, less salad, less taste, less of everything, but I wouldn’t bargain on my cup of hygiene.


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