You may have expected my first blog out of India, the seat of enlightenment, to wax poetic on the art of being. But, as a Westerner attached to a wealth of earthly indulgences, I quickly realized that before I could ascend the throne of knowledge, I first needed to tackle the adversities I encountered while sitting upon the thrones, i.e. toilet seats, of India. That is, when there was a toilet seat available to sit upon. You see, the art of being in India cannot begin until one has perfected the arts of going #1 and, God forbid, #2 in India.
In a culture that proselytizes non-attachment as the path to happiness, it became clear that the only way this weary traveler from the Western hemisphere was to achieve Bodhi would be to leave my beloved toilet tissue, and therefore my ego, at home. After all, what better way to get in touch with yourself than to wipe your keister with your left hand?
Toilet tissue is, isn't it?, the most fundamental of American indulgences. If you are among my generation, you grew up watching Mr. Whipple worshipping the Goddess Charmin. As the years have passed, toilet paper has become gradually softer and thicker. Today, with its claims of strength and ultimate softness, Cottonelle boasts it is the only toilet paper worthy of respect. Respect? Cottonelle, a product used to wipe one's **s, is demanding respect.
This led me to wonder, in the Indian culture where cushy tissue for your tushy is completely absent, would the term **s-wipe take on a different meaning? If you called someone in India an *ss-wipe would you be offering them a compliment meaning a rare, valuable, and useful person offering the ultimate in humble action? Did Mumtaz Mahal, third wife of 17th century Indian Emperor Shah Jahan and inspiration for the Taj Mahal, wipe her own patootie, or did she employ a royal **s wipe?
Indians, as you must have gathered by now, don't use paper. They, instead, have perfected a system in which you use water from a faucet next to the toilet cupped in your left hand to do the job Angel Soft does for us in the U.S. This is why eating with your left hand in India is a major taboo. As most food is eaten only with the hands in this country, you can understand why. When I asked why eating utensils are not used, I was told "we know where our hands have been, but we don't know where the utensils have been, or how they were washed." Yes, I know where your hands have been, and it doesn't make me want to eat a big meal in your company...
Men in India pee everywhere with abandon. No need to drop trow, men simply lift their lungi (a traditional piece of cotton tied around their waists like a sarong). When driving down the highway you see groups of men on the roadsides, lungis lifted, peeing into the ditch. They don't even try to hide in the bushes or behind a car door. Peeing in public is no problem and even around national monuments you will see mothers lifting their daughter's skirts and letting them squat to pee. I don't know what the women do. Sarees would allow for easy access, but there seems to be a modesty when it comes to women squatting in public. They must be taught the art of holding it. I admit, during my trip I became a master of this art.
In anticipation of hosting the Commonwealth games in 2010, Delhi launched a public campaign to discourage peeing in public. It didn't work.
On my last day in India, I took my Indian friend's family a bag full of things I had brought with me but didn't want to cart back to the U.S. In it was a large roll of T.P. When the father of the house saw it in all it's quilted wonder, he asked if it was facial tissue. "No, it's American toilet tissue." His eyes widened and he gestured for me to hand it over. Like a little kid, like the ghost of Mr. Whipple, he squeezed it and let out a squeal of delight. "It's all yours," I said with a gentle bow of the head.
Let us be grateful for the bounty of our country, my friends. Yes, we may be overly attached to the little luxuries of our lives, but the lesson is in not taking them for granted. The next time you find yourself reaching for the roll, close your eyes and be thankful. That's that. I gotta go, now. No, really. I gotta go.