The newspapers report that there are more mobile phones than toilets in India. Hardly surprising, given the number of times a bush was the best we could do for a ‘comfort stop’ on my recent tour, and the number of men along side the road as the bus pulled out of Agra in the morning.
Imagine if there were men squatting, pants around their ankles, along Kings Avenue Canberra with Parliament House in sight? Or under the Sydney Harbour Bridge? Many of my observations while travelling in Rajasthan were confirmed by the White Tiger. This marvellous novel by Aravind Adiga (thank you Jennifer!) says more about contemporary India and its culture of corruption than a year of pouring through social research. Fully deserved the Man-Booker Prize, too.
The scandal prompting the resignation of cricket chief Shashi Tharoor is just the tiny tip of a huge iceberg. For every well intentioned policy move in India there is a counter-force demanding compensation or consideration. No wonder their government is more of a shuffle than a dance.
And where do the women do their business? Perhaps they are all working in call centres, where maybe they have access to toilets, but I doubt it. The White Tiger is very much from a male perspective, with selfish grannies, fat rich women and Russian prostitutes for gender balance. Tragically hilarious, with a strong scent of reality.
What does it say about a society that has more mobile phones than toilets? How tame Australia is, with our publicly funded online map of public toilets. How sweet, how egalitarian (even the rich need a public toilet now and then), and above all how functional.
Maybe Australia is still dependent on its rocks and flocks (more the former than the latter these days) and maybe it retains a lop-sided distribution of funding for health and education. There will be many more COAGs before that gets sorted out to full public benefit.
But at least we have some priorities right: what is more fundamental than public hygiene? But in India, the caste system is visceral rather than vestigial. You can visit temples where rats are worshipped and priests drink out of the same bowl with them. Or maybe you’d like to watch the lunchtime performance of a devotee as he flogs himself.
Another interesting statistic: in Africa at least 70% of people identify themselves as ‘deeply religious’, whether they are Muslim or Christian or combine these with pagan rituals. In the US that drops to about 50%, and in Sweden, a mere 8%. Which is more civilised, where would you feel safest, and which place would seem to best uphold the values that religion is supposed to uniquely provide?
Next time I find myself talking to someone from a call centre in Kolkata or Mumbai, I’m going to ask them if they are rest room facilities. And wish them a good day.