Am I insensitive? Am I prejudiced?
Lalitha and I were booked by an overnight bus from Ernakulam to Kalpetta (both places are in the state of Kerala in India). We reached Ernakulam bus stand (KSRTC) by 23:30 hrs.
Trash was everywhere, there were not enough seats to rest, few seats on offer were bench-seats discarded from a bus, those benches were packed too close to each other for comfortable seating; there were very few working fans! Place was far from being traveler friendly!
We sat down on one of the benches with unequally long legs resting on an uneven floor. I pulled out the print out of our bus ticket to fan myself for relief from the sweltering heat.
I did a quick survey of the place around. There were more shops than were required, selling more things than are strictly required by a bus traveler. In fact the benches were packed together to make space for the shops to spread their ware outside of their legitimate floor space.
I noticed the ‘Toilet’ sign and the building that housed it at the periphery of the bus stand. With some horror I imagined what it will be like to use that ‘Toilet’!
Mounting discomfort and disgust had reached a high when finally the delayed Volvo bus was spotted coming down the flyover and heading towards the bus stand where we waited.
I quickly walked towards the ‘Toilet’ block. Dimly lit interiors, wet floor with puddles of water here and there forced me to take each step with care. An unwashed man sat by a rickety table. He hit the table with a stick ‘tap, tap, tap’ and pointed to a pile of coins lying on the table. That was a signal for me to pay. He was being paid, it appeared, to keep that place dirty! I dropped a coin on the table, looked for the sign ‘Gents’ and walked in.
There were two doors separated by 5 to 6 feet. I was at the door on the right and found ankle deep water in the passage in front. A row of 4 or 5 cubicles with damaged doors stood beyond the passage! I froze at the door step! ‘Tap, tap, tap’ went the man at the table. This time to attract my attention, “If you want to use only the urinals they are by the side”.
I took a few steps to my left and stepped in through the other open door. I froze again. There were two girls. They stood facing each other and one was working on the face of the other! I wondered, “Did I miss the sign ‘Ladies’?”; I feared, “What will happen now, will they scream?”, I told myself, “Hurry, get back to the bus”.
“Sorry, sorry, sorry” I kept saying as I withdrew in great hurry not caring for the wet floor or the puddles!
I heard the ‘tap, tap, tap’ for the third time. “You can go in. They are boys dressing up as girls for the night!” he said in a matter of fact voice. I saw the bus already parked outside, the only clean and shining thing in that whole area. It was a safe place to be in. I increased my pace and was soon inside the bus.
I sat in the bus afraid of analyzing myself. Several unanswered questions weighed on my mind! Could my act of turning back on seeing them have been offensive to them? Was I insensitive? What was the proper thing to do once I knew they were not ‘girls’ and that it was not ‘Ladies’ toilet? Should I have gone back and used one of the urinal-bowls that lined the wall, unmindful of the ‘girls’ (actually boys dressed as girls) who would then be standing just behind my back? Was I prejudiced?
I had no answers then. I have no answers now! To the questions I have listed above and many more I have not!