In Terror Of The Office Toilet


In Terror Of The Office Toilet

Illustration: Akshita Monga

There are two kinds of people in the world. Those who stride into the office bathroom, and those who hide in it. The former are usually the people who own cubicles, and make it their life’s mission to tell the rest of us what they ate and drank for their last 20 meals. Like that ultra-motivated athlete in every Nike commercial, they just do it. I, on the other hand, stand in a corner, mimicking the body language of a kitchen lizard that has just realised that the lights are switched on.

In case, you haven’t guessed by know, I have serious bathroom anxiety. The clinical term for which is paruresis aka the fear of answering nature’s call in the presence of other people or in a public loo. It makes my everyday trips to the office bathroom feel like the long walk to the other side of the Wall, all the way to the White Walkers.

As if showing up for early-morning meetings, tidying my desk, and keeping tabs on the latest office gossip isn’t exhausting enough, my self-conscious brain has to spend the rest of its valuable time in acknowledging that another person has used the same washroom as me. To prevent a gross attack on the auditory nerves of the person in the next cubicle, I remind my bladder every day to pretend like it’s Tusshar Kapoor from the movie Golmaal. But only less irritating.

Each time, I spot a familiar pair of heels from the little gap between the cubicle door and the floor, I feel the urge to get up and leave. You may look at it as an expensive pair of Charles & Keith, but to me it’s a full-frontal blow to my privacy. It makes me wonder, how a society that fought for individual rights year after year, finds it perfectly normal for co-workers to do their business standing/sitting, an arm’s distance away.

You know what’s worse than having to make small talk with a woman colleague? Making small talk with her on a commode. Dear cubicle neighbour, please don’t tell me what you ate for lunch today. Much to my dislike, I already know. Besides, let’s not pretend I’m the only one judging people out there. I get that your bladder works faster than Flash travelling through time, but you don’t always have to say, “I’ll wait for you outside” each time I take 50 seconds extra. Yes, I take long because I use the flush five times to drown the sound of pee. No, I’m not wasting water; I’m merely preserving my self-respect. Like you should maintain yours by not leaving a floater. Or for that matter taking a dump in the office washroom at all!

Shouldn’t there be a blanket ban on pooping during work hours? I mean, really? You just did your big job in the morning. You need to go again?

Shouldn’t there be a blanket ban on pooping during work hours? I mean, really? You just did your big job in the morning. You need to go again? But given our rajma-chawal addiction, I guess pooping at the workplace will not be banned anytime soon. As a rational human being, I get that. But please get it that bathroom decorum deserves a serious dialogue. At the cost of sounding like Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory, I have to say the idea of printing out everybody’s bathroom schedule and mailing it to the entire staff sounds really nifty. It’s just like booking a meeting room but for a private cause.

Mrs Funnybones in one of her recent articles confessed that she is willing to share with her husband, her heart, her body, her life, and (grudgingly) even her food, but she will never share a toilet. She said that to her HUSBAND. The man she exchanges bodily fluids with. Because that’s what logic demands. Boundaries. Both in personal and professional worlds. But for some reason, women, especially in India, are habituated to going to the restroom in groups, as if there’s a picnic going on in there. What’s really happening inside is that an overload of information that nobody needs is being exchanged. You don’t need to know whether the girl from the sales division washes her hands after a pee, but in there you will know and be left with a crippling habit of carrying a hand sanitiser. You don’t need to know that the girl, whom you considered an office buddy, is fond of cauliflower, but in there no secrets remain hidden. The gift of smell will force you to reevaluate your friendship.  

It is not only for this reason that bathroom visits need to be solitary. It has been noted in ancient texts that bathrooms are our private sanctuary. An escape from the daily grind of life – a place to clear more than just your head. On days you feel the need to assert power over yourself, the commode becomes your indisputable throne. When darkness dawns upon your soul, a ray of light piercing through the (exhaust) window fills you with hope. All great artists have known to have their Eureka moments while channelling their beautiful tooshies. I dare you to name one who has had a moment of genius while listening to their boss complain about the company’s bottom line from across the door. Or while sighting extra-terrestrial things on the bathroom floor. Yes, that happens in the ladies’ room. And for the sake of your mental well-being, don’t ask me what that is.

But rant as I may, I know the world won’t change. Bathrooms will remain depressingly communal and Japan will have to come to my rescue. Japan, the inventor of amazing things like Babymetal and TV shows such as Kimono v Komodo, has patented the technology to cure our bathroom shyness. Bathrooms in Japan come fitted with the “Sound Princess”, an electronic device that emits the sound of a flush, every time the bathroom door is locked. The flush sounds masquerade the sound of doo-doo and pee-pee splashing into water, saving us from the worry of being judged or scorned. It is the things wet dreams are made of.

All I’ll then need is a crash course in making small talk with my washroom-cubicle neighbour, and my bladder would oblige me with blessed release.