Progress , often has something to do with "improvement in rank". Or perceived upgradation in stature.
To someone like Mukesh Ambani, it might mean climbing higher in the Forbes Rich people's list. To some, it might even mean graduating from cutting chai and udupi filter coffee, to Cafe Coffee Day, notwithstanding the fact that free wi-fi for your laptop and a fancifully named bitter beverage is never a match for 2 masala dosas. A chief minister may not rest till he has achieved his planned level of progress by buying an "official" personal plane, while to some, having 35 police, one bulletproof car, and stopped traffic may simply be the ultimate in progress. And we wont mention personal statues.
When you are a member of the Third world, everything that emulates the First world is automatically considered progress.
Including toilets. Which this city has not been able to provide along with a modicum of housing, to those who continue to stream into it, in search of work. There are some very dedicated organizations that work in this field , like Sulabh Shauchalaya, but space is very expensive in big cities , and progress then is slow.
Sometimes, progress to some, means graduating to western style toilets. Commodes.
During my working life, I once had the opportunity to shift to a special newly constructed building. In contrast with the rest of the 30 year- old buildings around us, this place had wide sweeping staircases, nice wide windows, modern beams traversing above, and great fixtures and facilities to enable infrastructure.
The bathrooms, were big, airy, had a decent amount of space outside the toilets with mirrors and sinks. Nothing that screamed "posh interiors", but the only trouble was, all the toilets were western. Which was something that begged explanation. Some of the ladies endured difficult travel for large periods of time, with no en-route toilet facilities, and a decent comfortable toilet on arrival was a welcome thought.
Most of us have grown up using the Indian style toilets. To this day, many of us are not terribly thrilled with western style toilets, which are considered unhealthy, in construction as well as usage. It's not a question of physical comfort. Its what you are comfortable with. And paper fails miserably compared to water, if you get what I mean.
In my childhood, folks who boasted of commodes in their toilets, were either in the armed forces, Anglo-Indian, Parsi, Christian, or someone who had returned after working for the government abroad, say, in the Civil Service, which was initiated during British Raj. We used to associate such folks with those who wore shoes in the house (regardless of weather), and wore lipstick and sleeveless blouses on sarees.
Our parents' generation was probably the first generation to get knee problems in their late seventies. And slowly, an additional bathroom with a commode first appeared in the house. Today, some folks in their 50's take immense pride is their inability to use an Indian Style bathroom. Partially because they are not fit, and partially because, it's "progress "...
To get back to the original story, the ladies of the section , a sizable number, discussed the matter together, and decided to put in an application for one of the bathrooms to be converted to a Indian style bathroom. A letter was drafted , signed, and sent to the Estate/Establishment Office , through, what is called "proper channels". Its not as if anyone was asking for an advance salary, unusual special leave or special permission of any kind, but the Head had to recommend that the higher ups pay attention to this. It made "going to the toilet" an official activity.
This resulted in several worthies suddenly appearing in a group to "tour" the facilities under question, and "discuss" the matter with the applicants. Possibly, an application was then put up to the highest planning authority (who normally sanctioned entire buildings and stuff) for "sanctioning" this. Some days later, a second-rung set of people appeared to take some measurements. Someone went back, and "put up" a note. After a few weeks, a possible configuration of an Indian style toilet, with diagrams was presented, with details of materials, and gauges, and assorted stuff. None of the ladies who travelled long distances, in crowded trains, standing, really had anything to say; they would just be happy if they did the modifications fast.
A couple of months later, the needful was done, and lo behold, the ladies acquired an Indian style bathroom. Probably considered a regressive act, but never mind.
Nov 19, was International Toilet Day. There were the usual articles in the papers , symbolic things like gathering to "squat on the beach", laudatory articles on those who were working in this field. There were also frustrated articles on how we are a dirty population, and how people don't follow hygiene while using the loos in what are the latest in Mumbai : Malls.
Many malls have only the western style toilet model. Not everyone who comes to visit these malls is acquainted with these, and comfortable with these. Very young children probably regard it as a hole into which they will fall, and cry. The railways take this to another exalted level. I have indelible memories of travelling , 25 years ago, from Mumbai to Delhi by Rajdhani, with a 24 month old son, whose trip to the bathroom consisted of both of us going in, me holding him on the commode, and he bursting into a loud wild uncontrollable cry, as he saw the rails and ground go past as he looked down the commode hole; he would insist of coming out of the bathroom, but would get desperate to go again, and the whole drama repeated several times till at some point nature involuntarily won, but the entire trip was traumatic for the little kid, and highly entertaining to the remaining travellers. Which is not to say that the Indian style toilet, in trains was any different. You could see the rails there too, but we never got to use that because there was a bigger demand for usage there.
Malls are a very western concept, accepted with great alacrity by Indians. That, is considered progress. For folks in mall-less cities, it is a matter of great pride to say that they visited so-and-so mall, and went around all the brand names. That's progress. For some, vegetables are nicer when bought in a place in the mall, that sells them cling-wrapped, resting in AC comfort, amidst rows and rows of other veggies, all at higher prices, and you lug them around in carts. Clearly, the neighborhood vegetable vendor, where you break a bean between your fingers to test the freshness, before he puts it in your cloth bag, with some free coriander and green chillies thrown in, is NOT progress.
Is it too much to ask that Indian style toilets be provided there ? In a city where the government has things to say about the language in which you display your shop/company name, can someone make a rule saying premises should have Indian style toilet facilities as an option ?
If a justification be required, the way it was, in our office, the health and other benefits may be found here.
Oh yes. Before I forget. Happy belated International Toilet Day.....