Posted tagged ‘public health’

Men at Work

November 20, 2009

Let me be, let me be
Why can’t I just be me?
On any old wall
When nature does call
In plain sight, I must         

If Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me were to do a Chennai-themed show and they invited people to submit limericks for their contest, this might be my entry.  The word that fills the blank describes a feature of Chennai we have all grown to tolerate.  Please indulge me as I belabor the point a bit.

You are out there bustling away with the rest of the bustling Chennaivaasis on a not-too-noisy street.  Perhaps, you are busy plotting your next sad pun to torment that adorable special someone walking alongside.  On a Bollywood-style whim, you nuzzle, trying to get a whiff of the fresh flowers she is wearing.  Dang!  You recoil in horror.  How can such pretty things smell so much like day-old pee?  Turns out that they can’t. Well, not unless you peed in them yesterday.  You just happened to take the fateful breath near a semi-dark spot frequented by Chennai’s itinerant urinators. 

Or how about trying this scenario for size?  You and your special someone are coming back from dinner.  You are feeling all is right with the world because the dude didn’t throw Nescafe powder into a davara and call it filter coffee.  A great meal AND great service!  Wow!  Who’da thunk? You run your hand lazily around your bellybutton as you head towards the corner where your car is parked. Your meditations on the most efficient way to dislodge that last bit of saunf from your molars are rudely interrupted by your normally peaceful partner swearing like a Chennai auto-driver with Tourette’s.  Apparently, the special someone stepped in a small puddle and got some freshly painted toenails wet.  You quickly assess the damage and state confidently that it is just water.  I see this all the time, you say.  Someone probably bought a bottle of water and realizing it is fake-RO and probably from the nearest open sewer, poured it down in disgust.   You hope that the bizarre detail will make the explanation sound authentic, but you know better.  This was not fake-RO-water, it was ex-fake-RO-water, as Monty Python might say.  Yeah, one more turgid Chennaivaasi at work, those naughty devils.  Their handiwork is everywhere, especially in dark corners where cars and dumpsters might be parked.   

People (almost always men, actually) in Chennai seem to pee in all places and at all times.  How deliciously ironic is it that we frown upon kissing in public (just ask Richard Gere), but not on public peeing?  The rest of the world breathes, we seem to breathe and pee.  You eat, we pee.  You kiss, we pee.  You pee, we pee.  The thought seems to be that there is a whole lot of peeing to be done, and someone better get to it.  We reserve special scorn for places with signs that say ‘Do not urinate here’.  I don’t know why people even bother with these signs any more; they are like the warnings on cigarette packs or those that should be on orders of french fries

This large-scale participation in public peeing seems to be one of the differences between the Chennai of today and the Madras of 15-20 years back.  It is often said that cricket is India’s true religion.  Peeing in public merits at least an honorable mention on the list of desi religious persuasions.  Considering the number of enthusiasts, it should be clear above Jainism but well below, let’s say, the Art of Living.  One might even argue that this act gives more personal pleasure than watching Tendulkar drive through the covers on the up or savoring a single grape for 30 minutes while cogitating on the meaning of ‘is’.  A good cross-section of Chennai is involved in this ritual, in which there is such apparent comfort that it is not hard to imagine important decisions being taken over a communal whiz: “Let’s shake on that!”  One of my friends tells me that we are actually lucky in Chennai; in Mumbai, the peeple (sorry!) face you. 

Being the pesky idiot that I am, I have been known to walk up to the pee-artists on occasion and ask them what they are up to.  One man quickly sized me up and said matter-of-factly ‘saar, naan urine pass pannren’ (Sir, I am ‘passing urine’), which is the sort of term your avuncular doctor might use when you go for a drug test.  As soon as he said that, I found myself saying ‘Oh, that’s what that is! For a second, I thought you were giving yourself pleasure in the middle of the street.  Thanks for clearing that up.  Sorry for intruding, please carry on’. 

In another instance, I found this really pious-looking guy peeing on a wall of the mosque opposite our flat.  The conflict between the mutli-color smearings on his forehead and his desecration of a place of worship seemed to float comfortably over his head.  Of course, the pest in me wanted to find out more and duly put forth the question.  He looked at me as though I had just told him that Dr. M. K. Stalin can’t really prescribe medicines.  Mistaking his silence, I repeated the question, upon which it became obvious that he had heard me well enough the first time and he was merely using the moment to prepare his verbal onslaught. A pretty nice lashing it was, too.  He started off by expressing some strong opinions about how I might have been conceived, after which he proceeded to command me in chaste Chennai Tamizh to offer oral comfort to the offending appendage.  I hadn’t seen that coming.   On a first date?  Come on!  The bar having been set so high, my comebacks were understandably tamer, consisting primarily of comparisons of him to various barking, ass-licking animals.  Pious Dude was not impressed with me ‘upsetting his mood’ so early in the morning.  Thankfully, the situation broke up when my equally annoyed neighbor joined me in asking him the same annoying question.  PD became really upset then and promised to return with his buddies to set me straight. 

Two days later, as I was leaving home, I saw PD walking on the street.  He saw me too and things got a little interesting.  He arrested his forward progress, turned around, gave me a defiant look, did a quick 180 and started to …  you guessed right, go.  Prior to this incident, I wasn’t quite sure that a person could pee on command, but I guess you learn something new each day.  This time around, there was no confrontation.  I just started laughing; noiselessly, I will add, so that I didn’t upset PD any more.  Have to say though, this passive-aggressive high-road-taking is over-rated!  It is not nearly as gratifying as a punch in the gut, but stupid ‘consequences’ get in the way of some good old-fashioned retribution. 

What is the cure for this epidemic?  Live wires in favorite pee-spots that hit them where it hurts?  Genetically modified Venus flytraps that grab and don’t let go?  More public restrooms in the neighborhoods like Mr. Toilet recommended?  Public service messages from celebrities — maybe Rajinikanth could do a spot in which he magically makes the pee arc back into the dude’s pants and then gives him some brotherly advice on how to use a toilet?  It doesn’t look like it’s going to be easy to put this genie back in the bottle.  Thankfully, there are some committed minds hard at work, so don’t give up just yet.

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