Of the very few things in the world that can make my skin crawl and my blood curdle at the mere sight of them, the Indian toilet figures at the very top.
It has been the proverbial thorn in my foot, the nemesis that continues to outsmart me – despite twenty six years of my best attempts at facing my fear. I suppose it is the compelling (and haunting) sight of one’s fine handiwork from the closest quarters possible, or the terrifying possibility of plunging into the inevitable void along with the aforementioned, as one attempts to hold on to dear life – which can deter even the most undaunted.
Of the several notable battles fought against my worthy foe, one instance stands out for having pushed me to the edge and beyond.
When I was very young, I had had the good fortune of travelling in the queen of all trains, the Rajdhani Express. Back in the day, when flying was considered an upper class luxury, this thing of beauty would majestically appear in the distance – its red-gold head glistening in the wintry sun, as it would make its way dreamily through the thick grey mist of the early morning.
Now as a general rule, unless absolutely necessary, I tended to avoid public restrooms. There I was, a little boy, lost in a reverie, with my cheek pressed against the icy window – wide eyed, as the trees and the fields whistled past. As luck would have it, before I could realise, I was overcome by the overwhelming desire to answer Mother Nature’s call. An undaunted rookie pooper back then, I rose confidently from my seat, excused myself politely (before my sceptical parents) and strode towards the restroom. “How hard could it be?” I thought to myself, as I opened the door and dropped my pants.
What followed next would go on to become the longest, most harrowing two minutes of my life.
As the train hurtled at eighty miles an hour, I crouched and clung on to the water pipe for dear life – my heart-rending screams drowned out by the clatter of the metal wheels. I wept, I confessed and I prayed for mercy, as I swung like a dying leaf in a storm. As the train entered into a particularly uneven stretch and lurched wildly on its wheels, the creaking water pipe finally gave way under my weight and I was flung to a corner of the tiny restroom. As I drowned in the ensuing flood of what could only be by now, an evil concoction of piss, mud and water – my entire childhood flashed before my eyes. I lay there mortified, contemplating my end – a young, promising lad, sucked out through the void and tossed out into the hayfield like garbage.
After an eternity of being shaken around like a rattle, the train slowed down and pulled into the platform. Miraculously, I had survived. I crawled out on all fours, weeping inconsolably – bedraggled, covered in mud. People shrunk back in dismay as I returned to my parents, who were by now hysterical.
I still have nightmares.