One of the side effects of thinking too much, is stress.
While not thinking properly and deeply about things may result in losses of opportunity, money, education or whatever, I have a secret sneaky admiration for folks, who face life in real time, tangle with hard knocks, fall down, gather themselves up, and start walking again.
In Mumbai, almost anything can stress you. Crossing a complicated road, with malfunctioning traffic signals, unexpected jams when you are trying to catch a train, a family member supposed to have returned 2 hours ago who yet has not, combined with unreachable cell phone numbers, inability to get the gas agency on the phone for a couple of days, when trying to order a replacement-cooking-gas-cylinder, even possible results of a pathological test....
When you get to be my age, wild driving on highways is a major stressor. In Mumbai, driving is truly an art, not a science. And so instead of rules , you have people doing their own stuff, so to speak. There are people overtaking you from the wrong side, when you are faithfully following speed limits, there are bikers, weaving in and out of traffic , with alarming bends, and buses bearing down in your lane, honking away, while you patiently look for an opening to change lanes. If you are a driver yourself, but are not driving, the stress is even worse.
And when you sense the flyover on which you are driving, vibrating , it gets too much .
This happened to me recently. We were driving into town for a visit, and all the above got combined with the fact that there was a massive jam half way there.
Stress affects people differently. I know people who suddenly blabber, some who burst out crying , some who suddenly develop dry mouths, and low sugars, as well as some who simply lose control and get violent. In my case, the brain has learnt to behave, but it always affects my digestive system nerves. I often have to seek out a bathroom, after the first flush of the crises has subsided.
Combine this with unnaturally reclined positions of car seats, and seat belts scrimping on length, and at some point I started sensing that I needed to desperately visit the loo. The problem got magnified after every thump of a pothole, and burp across a invisible speed breaker, and realized, that Mumbai, straining at the leash to get accepted as an International city, has a severe dearth on non-star decent ordinary loos for folks on the move, on foot, trains, buses, or whatever.
Yes, there are Malls, where one could dash in, but in the part of the city where we were driving, space was at a premium, lots of government buildings and offices, very few malls, and given the slow traffic, and newly changed road restrictions , I started looking around for what are known as Sulabh Shauchalaya. (Do click on that to see what a wonderful service this is, by one man Bindeshwar Patahk, who has made it his life's mission.).
Just before we reached what would possibly be considered the Page -3 kind of part of Mumbai, I spied one of these places. They need to have these outside every railway station and major bus stops and markets, but the city gets its money out of rezoning recreational public land into the laps of avaricious builders, and we lose out.
They look a bit alarming given the populace hanging outside, but once you go in, there is a counter with a polite chap/lady who accepts the Rs 2 fee, and points you in. Separate sections and entrances for men and women. There was a passage with a mirror and sinks, and there were several loos, and they were clean, and I couldn't thank my stars enough, that I had spied this place. It was literally a huge load of my mind, as I emerged out , setting every one's mind at rest.
There is a general thinking amidst the populace, that these places are dirty, populated by strange people, dangerous attitudes etc. I've seen an attitude of disdain for these places in the city. And while this isn't a perfumed atmosphere, with monogrammed soaps, and a smiling attendant, and someone constantly mopping the place with a phenyled mop, it serves the purpose admirably, if you mind your own business and leave after doing your stuff. Chances are, you may be breathing worse air outside, and eating E-Coli burgers at fancy places.
And I then I think of all those living in Mumbai, for whom this is a daily problem.
The thousands of women who have no toilets, who must live in slums, and wake up at all odd times, and walk around in the dark with containers of water for washing.
Young girls who have no privacy, pregnant ladies, old women, who are even today bound by limitations of dress, who must actually time their visits to a public loo, some distance from their place of residence.
There are taps that get no water, water pipes that spout illegal branches, and a water tanker mafia.
And a city, that prides itself on advertising high rise apartments with swimming pools, landscaped ponds, Jacuzzis on terraces, the latest in sanitary fittings, imported from Italy and Germany....
The strange thing is, we , who should not have anything to crib about here, are the ones who get stressed. We, who can have showers at will, have a choice of bathrooms, have excellent water supply, and can occasionally pay for a royal bathroom treatment in a 5 star environment. We crib about the heat, the lack of breeze, get suffocated in a crowd, make a great fuss about the need to have the third shower of the day ......
My household help, S., has no toilet in her house. She is one of those, who lives with 9 people in 1.5 rooms, gets up very early , along with the others, to finish her stuff and help with the grandchildren, before people take off for work and school.
She has a key to my house. I have never ever seen her come in, and say, rush to use our bathrooms. She has never asked if she could bring her grandchildren in to have hot showers/baths. The most she has ever done, after asking me, is carried home pots of drinking water from my house, because the water supply in her area didn't look clean.
And she never talks about stress.
Which is not to say she doesn't have any. There is plenty of it . Lack of sufficient money, marriage of a daughter who has returned home from an abusive earlier one, worry about the health of S.'s aged mother, who is slowly going blind, a possible court case with a fellow illegally occupying part of her native abode in another place, the ever increasing fees in Mumbai's schools where she hopes to educate her grandchildren......
And I get stressed, make a fuss about the effects of age, stress , seat belts, roads, and write about loos, which possibly could be maintained cleaner but are not......
Shhaa ! Shame on you, Ugich Konitari .....