Any woman who says she doesn’t have penis envy hasn’t needed to pee on a twelve hour journey, holding it in for three hours while the bus stops at random intervals for jolly, jaunty men to hop off and on, sparing nary a thought for the sheer luxury that is projectile peeing. Perching in a twist on my bunk on the overnighter, I could see them through the bus’ front windows, holding up the vehicle, unapologetically doing their business against bushes and cliffs and dividers in the full glare of the headlights. Also visible were the men huddled in the appropriately-dubbed cockpit, doing other things I longed to but could not, for the same reasons I was holding it in: smoking, chatting with the bus driver, enjoying bearing down on smaller vehicles, not thinking about their bladders at all.
Oh to be a man in this country and mark my territory all along its many roads. I would twirl my moustache all day long, hoist my lungi up and tuck it in before kicking ass (habitually), and pee and pee and pee (happily but not hands-free)… I would be a caricature. I would date women disproportionately more attractive than me. I would smell of Axe and beer farts. Most of all, I wouldn’t be writhing on a long bus ride fantasizing in such unfeminist ways.
When these thoughts stopped amusing me, and my slight discomfort turned to serious difficulty, I took to prayer. I prayed that a rest stop with a ladies’ loo would materialize on the highway in five minutes or less (“see God, I asked for five minutes and not two because I am patient. Also kind and honest, present blackmail and manipulation notwithstanding, so pretty please?”). I prayed that even if it was a squatting toilet I wouldn’t complain. I prayed that even if there was no soap I wouldn’t complain (much). I prayed that even if there was no water I would jiggle and bear it and wouldn’t complain (maybe just a little). And I prayed, for once, that it would not start raining. Nothing like desperation to bring the old religiousity out. Oh my gods and assorted divinities, how I prayed. And holy cow and sweet baby Krishna – how big is this country anyway, and yet how infrequently punctuated by potties?
After the prayers came the paranoia. I was in physical pain by then. This was it – lifelong kidney damage! I would need surgery! I would have to carry my execratory system around in a bag! My kegels were surely in a state of permanent sclerosis! I would DIE because of a toilet deficiency! Fortunately, as the offspring of physicians, I did not succumb to visions of pee coming out of my eyeballs, but I think there might have been a moment or two when I might have cried a little. You know, a wee bit.
But this is also the story of the most satisfying pee of my life. The bus stopped. I jumped and ran as fast as crossed legs could take me. And there was water. And soap. And a toilet seat. Empty of bladder, full of relief, I climbed back on the bus and fell into a happy sleep, dreaming of an India of extraordinary cool and urinary equality.
An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express. “The Venus Flytrap” is my column in the Zeitgeist supplement. Previous columns can be found here.