The Last Mile – The Science Of Toilets




The temperatures have touched 46 degrees Centigrade here in Delhi, or 115 degrees in American measure. Maybe, the heat has finally hit me, and I have gone completely stark, raving mad. Why else would I stick a photograph of badly attended and maintained public toilets on a post, and that too, a large photo? Prithee, pray tell me. I must have gone mad. Or else, my grinning soul has something more in it.

So, if you are not completely disgusted by the sight of those dirty toilets, then read on.

As a disclaimer, I must also say that the toilet disclaimer has a distinctly Indian flavour to it. In India, we tend to shy away from touchy-feely topics concerning sex, and other basic bodily functions. We believe in keeping our living rooms clean, because that is where guests generally go when they visit homes. The guest loo is kept clean as well. At home, we do try and keep the loo somewhat clean.

But, have you been to a loo at a bus station in India? Or, to the loo in a restaurant? Now, the restaurant charges you full price for your meal, and the restaurant owner believes that, in return for giving you a full meal, you will eat and leave quickly so that he can serve the next customer. You are not supposed to go to the toilet. No, you are not. If you do, then you need to perform some strange acrobatics. Either you hold your nose for the duration of the experience and, use your instinct to aim where you pee, as you dare not look down. Or, hold your nose, and perform the same procedure. Ensure you carry wet wipes, because many restaurants do not have a tap – with water – for you to wash your hands. They have a tap.

The restaurant owner does not want to provide a complete customer experience.

Moving on.

Our economy has grown, and the incidence of such horror stories have reduced. In some five star hotels, they have gone the extra mile, and have installed a person to manage the loo, and to give you a towel when you wash your hands. It is a tough job, but it gives them employment. I cannot think of standing in a loo all day, smiling as people come in and pee, and they look at you with unseeing eyes as they take the towel from your hands. They have more important things to do, like making money, than to acknowledge your essential humanity.

However, in many organisations, the emphasis is on the reception, the front desk, the offices, and the loo experience is left in the dark, in the background, as an afterthought.

We often do not go that last mile to do better, to provide a better customer experience, to make a better presentation…..

Now, I agree that it is impossible to be perfect. However, we can be the best that we can be, and we can better ourselves. It is a question of going that last mile.

In this day, when presentation matters the most, we have a tendency to brush up on the presentation, and we have a strong tendency to hide the shit that lies behind. I have seen many people who will make a grand tour, make a fancy presentation, tell a fantastic yarn, all the while hoping that the audience does not scratch the surface.

Who wants the “customer” to visit the loo? 


  1. Public cleanliness has always been headache for India. To admit openly,the toilet in the pic is more cleaner than where I live(comparing bus stand toilets)…. In India two places one never should enter viz haunted houses and public toilets….

  2. *holding sides whilst laughing uncontrollably*

    I do find it amusing that you took a photo of a urinal and not a squatter.

    When my blog was over on Blogger (2007) I had an entire post dedicated to my abject horror upon landing in India going to the village and realizing what my options were. Time has mellowed my perspective and you know you are a beloved daughter/sister in law when your your entire family installs Western flush toilets in their homes for your once every 2-3 year visits 🙂

    1. Wow! But you know, the Indian style loos are really super for cleaning out your insides. Great early morning as well, squatting there. And, since there is no body contact, very hygienic as well!

      1. I too was surprised to find that the body position required to use the “squatter” commonly found in India IS quite ergonomic for its intended purpose. Troubling for us Westerners though. But I suppose a nation of 1 billion people should look after its own first.

        I was in Tamil Nadu in 2005 working on a documentary about the rebuilding efforts one year after th tsunami that devastated the region with great loss of life and livelihood. We were set up on the beach at Idinthakarai (just up the coast from Kanyakumari) and I was filming what I THOUGHT was a fisherman looking out at the sea pensively.

        Well… a few seconds later we realized he WASN’T and was looking after his biological needs right at the seaside.

        Of course, we now knew what the position for this activity looked like and from that day on noticed people looking after their needs very quickly and efficiently at the side of the road in public.

        I truly love what I saw of India during my one month in country but that one item always factors into the cautions I give to my friends who may be considering visiting.

        I hope to go back someday soon, but I assure you I won’t be wearing open-toed shoes or sandals. I’m spoiled for the Western Porcelain Throne!

      2. Yeah. most of us have become that way. However, this squatting style is not unique to India. Many Chinese toilets are the same. I discovered this when I was living in China. The squatting style is really good not only for cleaning your insides out, but even for opening up your hips!

      3. As well, the washroom facilities where we travelled in Brazil were not able to accommodate toilet tissue through the flushing mechanism and required tissue to be placed in a bag in the stall.

        Every country has its idiosyncrasies around toileting!

  3. LOL….ah..ah..similar here when going to (some) public toilet in gas station. And we do have to pay 50 cents Euro (around 40 Indian Rupee) and of course sometimes we had to do acrobatic performance in toilet as well :))
    Well written post Rajiv!

  4. I feel you can tell a lot about a restaurant by their toilets, if they are good I feel happier about the hygiene in the kitchen and the staff. Interestingly I find your picture intriguing and wish to see more of the room.

  5. hi, Rajiv, I live in Mumbai so I completely agree with every word you have written in this post. It is appalling the way we keep our public loos. Being a woman, its worse, as half the highways do not even feel the need for washrooms along these long roads. I wish there was something we could do to better this situation, may be even in our own personal capacities and help people understand the need to maintain public facilities better. And no, I don’t think you are stark raving mad. I think you are real… it’s easy to talk about the bigger, more popular issues such as women power, child education and such. But I really wish we could look into these basic amenities issues and address these on a daily basis. Appreciate your sharing it on a public forum. Any ideas on how to better the existing situation are also welcome.

  6. During one of my travel from my home town to Bangalore at night, the driver stopped in a place and when asked where the toilets were, he asked me to use the open space behind a shop. When I refused he said that it was 1.30 am and that it wouldn’t matter and that is where everyone had gone earlier. I refused and asked him to stop in the next toll gate where there are toilets (even though not that clean) and stop he did.

    Not only the toilets but dirtying the open spaces is an issue.

  7. Great, and Necessary topic. Thanks, Rajiv, for taking it up.

    Let me start by saying that I am Astounded that You came across toilets similar to ours in NL(?) and Germany. As for drunks, they will do it anywhere, in any country.

    Coming to the situ in our Country, India, just two remarks. I had to use one of these in Kerala at a Bus Stand. I was directed to the ‘Comfort Station’ which was Remarkably Clean.

    Whereas, if You are in Tamil Nadu, do not bother to bring wet wipes. Because, one look at the Urinals and You are liable to faint, or if You brave them, the Flies which sit on You during those 60 seconds or so are enough to give You I don’t know what. In Tamil Nadu, if it were Humanly possible, One would Best hold on till one reaches Home.

    Question: What prevents TN (and Others) from emulating Kerala in this?

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