Bathrooms are generally considered areas of cleansing. Sadly, in a hostel, entering a bathroom entails a simultaneous feeling of increased dirtiness. Call it physical, psychological, philosophical or plain comical but the moment you set foot into a hostel sanitation area, you feel like all the plagues of Egypt descended upon you at the same time.
Consider my first hostel bathroom. It was truly posh, really. For one thing it was an actual room! (As in we had to take at least two steps to touch the opposite wall). Secondly it did not supply 'mineral' water that literally turned us into stalagmites if we stood under the flow of water for too long. (please note the use of "flow of water" as opposed to shower). But these virtues were overshadowed by the fatal hamartia of the Hanging Gardens of Underwear. Take this scenario: After a sweltering night, first thing you see when you enter the bathroom are rows of drying lingerie, this followed by the swarm of mosquitoes that the opened door stirred awake, while M.S' suprabhatam mocks you in musical amusement. I assure you such a welcome blinds one to the magic of space and decalicifying possibilities. Furthermore, the bathroom was attached- A cloaked killer that. Because you see, this meant that the person in the bed closest to the bathroom (me) bore the full brunt of the mosquitoes that were spawned in the damp reaches of the damned room. And my first hostel's bathroom was apparently the Big Apple of mosquito-dom. I am surprised I survived with any blood at all!
Times changed as did hostels, but bathrooms go on forever. Or not, considering that my in second hostel there was always a shortage or available cubicles in the morning when you desperately crave ablutions before battling the day. I made my inaugural bathroom entry with a bang: I dropped a detol bottle right in the middle of the place and it obligingly smashed into smithereens with an accompanying twash! This gained me the everlasting displeasure of most of the inmates thereafter. Well,the anus sanctum (that was the motto of the hostel, not a pun) came with luxurious effects of 4-5 bathing cubicles, even smaller toilets, 'mineral water' baths, live music (neighbouring bathroomers) and the eternal "excitement" regarding the fickleness of water supply. This last quality, by the way, is a constant in every hostel.
Some of the most awkward and hilarious (on hindsight) situations arise when the water stops halfway through whatever sanitary activity you are indulging in. Following such a misfortune the hapless individual will embark upon a series of hollers and yowls imploring the staff to PLEASE TURN THE MOTOR ON! which may or may not be heard (ignored) by the implorees. Tis a terrible fate indeed to be stuck in a waterless bathroom. Worse still if the bathroom in question already induces nausea and is rather claustrophobic to add to it. Funny in the future perhaps, but when you're you are marooned in a bathroom caked with soap and with merely a millimeter of water left in your bucket, nothing can be farther from humor. Another hostel bathroom constant is darkness. All the hostel bathrooms I have been exposed to have suffered from light shortage at some period or the other. And in the case of the Old Women's Hostel, we were perennially in the dark regarding whether there will ever be light. In many ways it is a blessing - at least you don't have to see what you might see. But it is rather funny considering it gives a whole new twist to the phrase "dark doings". Couple that with groping in the dark for the tap and you have a comic scene worthy of Laurel and Hardy.
There's nothing new about the New Women's Hostel's bathrooms. Same old water problems, same old faulty locks, same old dysfunctional light bulbs. But what is different is that the users love to leave behind memories of their presence in the form of shampoo sachets, plastic covers, newspapers and often rather vile things I'd rather not defile the blog by naming. As the law abiding pacifist proletariat we went to the authorities and got zilch. Which is when, in true University spirit,the the posters went up. The revolutionary literature was posted on bathroom doors in eloquent terms running along the lines of " Pull the flush!" and "Get toilet trained!" Surprisingly enough the posters did have an effect. For a while. Sigh.
I remember telling my mother that I wanted to take pictures of the bathrooms at home, just so I can remember that clean, pretty bathrooms do exist and the parryware ads aren't full of s***t. This declaration was greeted with incredulous laughter, of course. Either way, I am sure that this is a memorable experience. And I'm pretty sure it has inured me to a great deal of trauma. At some point of time when I am stranded in the slums of Sumatra, I wont be challenged by the terrifying toilets. So I guess there's no harm done. If nothing else the bad bathrooms have become an investment in mirth: so it's all worth it. :D
Kalyani's heart cringed at the thought of what awaited her smiling daughter. The unfairness of it all galled her fine sensibilities. Her daughter was much too young, much too happy for this!. It isn't right! she thought vehemently, as she glanced at the group of adults cosseting her little girl. She is just a child, a baby! The centre of attention laughed unaware that this attention was only because they too knew what was going to happen,and knew that she needed to be lulled into safety before the inevitable needle prick that awaited her. The injustice of it all left a bitter taste in her mouth.
Saro placed a hand on Kalyani's shoulder, "It is time, mole." Kalyani shot a pained glance at her mother and stiffened her spine. She had to do this, it was tradition. Her daughter would thank her later. The cooing group parted like the Red Sea at her approach. She shared a speaking glance with Shantam who calmly held out the tiny earings as Kalyani lifted her startled daughter in her arms. The child looked up at her questioningly for a moment, but the rising question was submerged in the deluge of trust that gurgled forth from her lips, spreading into a smile of unblemished faith. And Kalyani's heart broke into a thousand pieces: She was going to shatter that unquestioning trust today. Dredging up a smile for her daughter's benefit Kalyani walked through the darkened portals.
The Nurse looked up from her tray and smiled reassuringly. "Have you marked her?" she asked. Kalyani managed a nod. Her daughter chose that moment to release a happy giggle, making Kalyani's knotted insides shrivel. The Nurse took one look at her tortured visage and quickly held out her arms. "Come, let me take her through this , you wait outside." Kalyani looked down at her laughing daughter and knew she couldn't see what was going to happen to her. In that moment of weakness she gave up her child, her baby into alien arms. The child laughed happily at the mild change in height, her sparkling exuberance spreading itself even into the business-like nurse who unbent enough to coo soft words to her and bounce her about. Kalyani turned away unable to face the waiting pain. As the nurse walked away, she listened against her will to the fading laughter of her little girl. She heard a door close but she could still hear the laughter, light and naive. Her daughter would be in the room now-There was another burst of laughter-they would hold her firmly so she wouldn't flinch and dislodge the equipment- a little giggle and some chatter-They would lower the needle onto her tender skin and--
The scream rent the air like tearing silk, all the more gruesome because of the mirth that preceded it. Kalyani's fingernails dug crescents into her palms as she willed herself not to run to her daughters rescue. The screams went on an on, first plaintive, then angry, never stopping. At long painful last the nurse returned with her crying daughter who looked up at her with her large wet eyes full of reproach. Kalyani swallowed and gathered her up in her arms trying to soothe her. I'm so very sorry kanna. So so sorry. She cleared her throat and faced the nurse, "Did she give you too much trouble?" The nurse, who had lost a great amount of her cool matter-of-fact calm, was trying ineffectually to recapture several escaped strands of hair. She shot a mildly desperate and partly amused glance at the crying child and shook her head in disbelief.
"Trouble? Oh madam, it is only because she didn't know what we were doing that we managed to pierce the first ear properly. The second one is definitely off! She wouldn't let the needle anywhere near her! She's going to be a difficult one! So angry, my God!"
Sure enough, one ear lobe sported a piercing much lower than the marked spot. Kalyani smiled indulgently. If at 28 days her daughter was fighter, perhaps at 28 she will be even better. If she can fight this little pain with such vehemence, may be the greater pains will be kept at bay too. Kalyani looked down at her baby daughter who had cried herself to angry sleep, the tiny golden earings glowing in the dim light of the hospital corridor and prayed for happy times.