Thursday, November 27, 2014

Another reason to never visit India

India used to be close to the top of my "when I win the lottery" travel list. It's a huge diverse country with amazing historical sites and a fascinating history. I have a friend who teaches south Asian art history and I've occasionally envied him for the time he got to spend in Pakistan and India. Not anymore.

I knew the cities are crowded, dirty, and probably reek, but in the back of my mind there was still a vague "I'd like to go there someday" feeling. Even watching contestants on "Amazing Race" trying to turn cow shit into fuel didn't really discourage me. Everyone knows India is a country of strange contrasts: congested urban centers with modern skyscrapers and cows being milked in alleys, crowded buses and taxis jostling for driving space with ox carts, incredible wealth right next door to appalling poverty. Then I started seeing an occasional article about the public hygiene problems. Turns out the streets of Mumbai and Kolkata aren't just filled with cow shit. There's also plenty of the human kind. For a country that is becoming a global economic powerhouse, India suffers from an astounding lack of toilets. The public pissoirs and water closets that are easy to find in most industrialized countries are astoundingly rare in India. It is apparently a common sight on city streets to see men casually step up to the side of a building to urinate. Any building. I've heard people complain that city streets in New York can smell like piss. I have a hunch you haven't really smelled human urine until you've been to India.

Okay, if the men are pissing against the sides of buildings, just where are people defecating? You got it. In the streets. Maybe not quite as publicly as the dudes marking their territory on the sides of buildings, but pretty damn close to it. Apparently most people wait for the cover of darkness to go out and squat in the gutters, but not all. So the fragrance of India consists of the smell of rotting human waste on top of the cow shit and miscellaneous other animals' crap. I suppose I could live with that, especially as a tourist. It couldn't be any worse than living downwind from a hog farm (or driving through Iowa). Tolerable, if not particularly enjoyable.

And then I read an article about the complete lack of women's rest rooms. Men get to piss against buildings. Women get to hold it. Even workplaces, the factories, office buildings, and call centers where women work have very few toilets. One article described a textile factory that employed hundreds of women but had no restrooms. The women were expected to just refrain from pissing for the entire length of their shift. Unreal. People bitch in this country about being expected to just hold it until their coffee break or lunch, but can you imagine having to wait 8, 9, or 10 hours? Not surprisingly, this lack of places to pee is causing significant health problems for Indian women. It's also contributing to the rape crisis: over half the population of India still lives in housing that lacks indoor plumbing. The women have to leave their homes to relieve themselves and then are victimized when they try to use one of the local toilets or go out to piss or crap in the gutters once it's dark.

It is so bizarre. How can a country that has nuclear weapons also be so fucking primitive that there aren't enough toilets to go around? I can understand a lack of toilets in underdeveloped nations that are suffering from a lack of money or have been wracked by decades of civil unrest, like the Congo, but India? India is the home of a gazillion call centers and is also noted for exporting engineers and doctors to the rest of the world. Then again, maybe that explains why my primary care physician is now living here in Baraga County instead of back in her home country. She's not too thrilled with the long winters here, but at least there's never a problem finding a toilet.

No doubt as a tourist I would be carefully sheltered from the realities of life in India. For sure the hotel rooms would all have bathrooms, so a casual traveler might never really notice the lack of facilities elsewhere. Still, when the lottery winnings roll in, I think I'll plan to visit someplace like Iceland instead. If nothing else, it's cool enough there that if people are pissing in the streets the smell won't be as noticeable.


  1. It is amazing how varied the world is. And often not in a way I would want anything to do with either.

  2. this is not just India. Throughout southeast Asia you can find the same condition. I know it was years ago but when I was in Vietnam men and women defecated in the fields outside of the bases before coming to work.

    In a section of Catania, Sicily they were still emptying their slop buckets into the street gutters each morning.
    the Ol'Buzzard

  3. The Indian sub-continent and in fact all of SE Asia is on my list of place NOT to visit. Tanya however wants to visit Sri Lanka as a tourist to one of the all-inclusives...


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