Thursday, February 17, 2011

Shameful Stress....

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 .....


  1. I travel a lot and find Sualbh Shuchalaya service comparatively good in bigger cities. In smaller cities (block level places) it is not that clean. But of course, it is always good to find these places when needed.

    About stress, we feel the stress when the situation is unexpected. With the daily problems, we somehow evolve a coping mechanisms - right or wrong - and manage the stress without feeling it. So, don't call it 'Shameful'- it is not any way shameful. Acknowledging stress is an important step in stress management!

  2. 'The strange thing is, we , who should not have anything to crib about here, are the ones who get stressed.'

    Sigh! Hw true and I so hope I always keep this in mind.

    Nice post!

  3. I woke up this morning feeling all grumpy, and decided to 'pamper myself' with coffee and my google reader. Then I happened to read THIS post of yours, and feel utterly disgusted with myself. Thank you, Gappa, for sharing this. Its a strong reminder of everything that we need to be grateful for.....

  4. :) I was discussing on this topic 15 minutes back with a friend of you said, I blabber a lot when i am stressed out (well, that happens otherwise too!)..sometimes, I get angry as well, but that happens due to lack of blabbering when I am stressed out :)

    ah, I miss my non-stressful days..seeing my niece each day who is so carefree makes me envious of wrong of me, but certain feelings you just can't stop from coming!

  5. haha..yes shame on us! i do get very worked up and crib about people who crib about all the things bothering them all the time in this city instead of seeing the bigger picture and how blessed and privileged are we compared to others not-so-privileged like S in this case.
    *sigh* to each his/her own stress i guess :)

  6. Stress and mumbai life I think are synonyms...but yaa you are right..we really shouldnt be cribbing when we have so much in life...and oh yes..these Sulabhs are definitely clean..thanks for the post...It sure made an impact on my cribbing sessions :)

  7. It's almost an everyday routine for a few of us to discuss it over a cup of tea at work...We crib about this and that. In our chit-chat we eventually get to the plight of the lesser fortunate and we realize how truly fortunate we are, that we have no right to crib! We walk back to our seats, a more contended lot. People who seem to have more materialistic comforts are the ones who seem to be more likely to complain! Ironic, eh?!

    As for the loo, I dread public toilets. But like they say...when you got to go, you got to go! There's a company around here promoting paid mobile toilets with access cards to enter and automatic flushing when leaving the loo (nominal charges is what I hear, they survive with advertising).

  8. The more we have, I think, the more we want.

    The divide between the haves and the have-nots is most remarkably seen, I think, in India, and you have captured it well here.


  9. Oh God - that really scared me - the flyover vibrating under our car's wheels....

    Of course, we get stressed abt such things, when basic essentials are deprived for many and they seem to accept the facts of life better than us.

    Suranga, have u read Shantaram ??? U shld if u havent becos I think u'll relate to it so well. Those open bathrooms - reminded me of that book.

  10. There are people living in serene places that get stressed out and there are those that live with great peace in the middle of battle torn Afghanistan !

    Big city living gives loads of stress to all and sundry ! Sometimes one just moves on, growing numb to it. So much so that it doesnt matter at all !


  11. Last week I had the experience of using the toilet at a institute in Ranchi. The building seemed new with the bamboo poles used for white washing the place were strewn in the spacious lawn(?). The lady whom I approached warned me saying that the rest room had no door and I should ask someone to stand guard. Okay, my ever obliging husband agreed to keep watch but the toilet was worse than the unmanned ones you see at bus stops and bazaars. It had perhaps not been cleaned for ages the plastic dabba was leaking and wouldn't hold even a glass of water, the flush was not working but luckily the place was not waterlogged and jammed and I managed to leave it as clean as I got it. I guess all the construction workers were using it and it reminded me of the toilets in the games village during the commonwealth games and of Mr. Bhannot who said that our standard of hygiene and civics was different to that of our western counterparts.No, Suranga, I think I am entitled to crib and complain not only for myself but for my fellow countrymen.

  12. .......and my main concern at the moment is where to hold a party.......shame on me too .....

  13. Shame on me, too. When I was reading at the top of your post, I wondered if you had ever raised teenagers. That was one part of my life I'd not like to do again. When I reached the middle of your post I started to feel how little I know about true "poverty". We live in a 4 bedroom home with 3 baths and showers, and I want to move to a "nicer" home. Shame on me for sure.

  14. Call me a cribber, but the point you have raised here needs to be talked (or cribbed!) upon.
    The fate of the Public Loo system in this country is dismal ! I have been in a Marketing job for a few years now (which involves quite a number of client visits/store visits etc)and when Nature Calls, the women are left in an awkward situation. No clean loos,no Sulabh Shauchalays in apt distances to be found.
    Did you know according to the country's municipality governance law, each Municipality should provide at least 1 Public Loo amongst every 1000 people ? Needless to say, none follows it.
    Barring Hyderabad which is the best city I have being to (and read about) having followed this diktat to some level.
    These public toilets also provide dignity to the woman of the lower strata, who can use the service free of cost on showing up a i-card/residence proof.


  15. Thank you for this post. I am thankful for so much and ashamed that I stress so easily.
    Being alone from 40 on and finishing raising and educating 4 children. This I am thankful for. Practicing mindfulness and I do better but still some things stress me. Like you it affects my digestive system..

  16. Thought provoking. It is time to reflect on the comforts we have.

  17. Kavi and all the ladies Thank you for all your wonderful comments......I hope things change for the better soon.....

  18. Thanks for the perspective.Going through a stressful move to a big city myself.
    Stress results from our inability to control/correct the way things are.For the slum dwellers,acceptance is a way of coping;for middle classers who have some means and leisure,ranting is a way of coping.
    But either ways Big Cities are a carnival of Stress.