I had purchased an apartment last year and, as the building nears completion, some families have moved in. I decided to move in only when the building is fully done. But I am involved in issues of common maintenance and upkeep.
Which brings me to the subject of this blog: the common water closet (WC), its usage, and maintenance.
The ground floor is dedicated to parking and there is provision for a guard room which has an attached WC. Who would have thought the WC would reveal as much as it did how people think and if I am say so, what ails the Indian’s mindset.
My neighbours in the building (some 5 other families) have a major grudge that people other than the guard use this common WC. I on the other hand thought that was exactly its function – that anyone who attends or visits our building and does not have access to the apartments should gladly use our common WC. And since it is in our building, we should be keeping it as clean as we would the bathrooms inside our apartments.
But was I wrong!
Everyone else was of the view that allowing anyone other than the guard to use the WC was unacceptable. Here’s more or less the conversation that took place yesterday during a flat owners review meeting:
Mr. X: And there is the issue of the common WC
Mr. Y: Yes, yes! We should lay down strict norms and ensure the guard does not allow anyone other than himself to use the WC.
Me: I think we need to use a softer approach and one which is both practical and human. I am uncomfortable that someone visiting our building who has the urge to answer nature’s call be refused to use the WC. It is almost inhuman.
Mr. X: You do not understand. The servants and labourers misuse the WC and dirty it. If we enforce upon the guard what is expected then the WC will remain clean.
Me: The best way to keep the WC spic and span is to lock it and not let anyone use it. Not even the guard. (Continuing) On a more practical note I think we need to accept that the WC will get dirty and will demand frequent cleaning. I suggest we simply do three things (1) Ensure we supply adequate cleaning material for the common WC (2) Tell the cleaning person to give the common WC a little more effort (3) Tell the guard he must make all possible efforts to keep it clean and convey the message to whosoever wishes to use the WC
Mr. X: That way we will soon have people from adjoining buildings also using our WC!
Me (I wanted to say “so what?” but toned down to say): We can ask the guard to not allow that. However, we cannot create a fight over it.
Mr. Y: Why should we be concerned? What were these people doing before our WC?
Me: We must accept that going to the toilet is not an act of fun. One needs to do it when one needs to do it. So, either we make our WC available by choice or someone will use it by ‘stealing’ or worse, not use it and take the call in public view (which is a common sight in India).
Mr. Z: The guard will still allow people because it involves his relationship with some of the people working in our building. However, if he knows we discourage this, he will limit the use to minimum.
Me: I again disagree. What you are saying is we force the guard to cheat. We know he must allow some people and at the same time we are telling him not to allow anyone. So, each time the guard allows someone, he knows he has cheated. Which in turn means he will come to dislike the WC. Which in turn means he will disown it. Which in turn means he will give two hoots whether it is clean or not.
Me: I believe we must give the guard the “ownership” of the WC. He is expected to allow anyone. At the same time, he can take the call of not allowing someone who he knows is not taking due usage care. We make the guard the owner and that automatically makes him responsible for cleanliness. Our job is simply to review and supply cleaning material.
They were staring at me as if I was talking Greek.
The gentle argument continued and I was out voted 4:1. It was decided that the guard will be asked not to allow anyone to use the WC.
I came out amused and saddened by this instance of short-sightedness and policy “made to fail”. We were simply creating a liar out of the guard. For no fault of his. We know what is going to happen – many people other than the guard will use the WC.
And what do we do – we do not provide to counteract the truth, we simply make a policy to circumvent the truth. How I wish we had been proactive. What stops us from going so far as to laying an award for the guard if we find the WC as clean as expected? An award of 450 rupees a month would mean just 50 rupees extra contribution for each apartment owner. The benefits are far outreaching than a clean WC. The guard gets more responsible and it will show in his other duties. But most of all, we create a system which functions on its own force.
To me this episode is a mirror to how India functions. From the Parliament, down to nine apartment buildings like mine.
In India, we want to assert our rights on people less empowered than us. We will not provide for what is bound to happen. We will simply create enough laws so that accountability goes for a toss and everyone wins by lying and cheating.
That’s why the country has gone down the flush pipe of a WC.