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The Curse of the Public Toilet

So I was in Vijayawada last week.

Vijayawada is a city laid out along the northern bank of the Krishna river about 60km before it meets the Bay of Bengal. A barrage on the Krishna river called the Prakasham Barrage is one of the city’s iconic landmarks as are the many hills that characterize its topography. Vijayawada is also a tremendously awesome regional scale transit hub with a railway station as well as a major bus terminus. The railway station alone is India’s busiest after Mumbai’s Central Terminal and serves about 1.4 lakh passengers everyday[1] . A hill-top temple along the banks in the name of Hindu deity Kanaka Durga is a strong draw for both locals and tourists from the immediate region. The temple’s close proximity to the river edge therefore lends a religious flavour to the city’s riverfront with pilgrims accessing the water by a series of ghats* for ablutions or for scattering the ashes of a loved one. The ghats in Vijayawada vary in design and in some locations are simply a ramp leading into the water. I am guessing the ramps may have been built to facilitate bringing holy cows to be washed in the holy river??

The many ghats of Vijayawada

The many ghats of Vijayawada

A serene ghat on the other side of the Prakasham Barrage

A serene ghat north of the Prakasham Barrage

As is the case with most cities with a river running through it, there is significant abuse of the river edge in terms of unscrupulous dumping of sewage and other such waste. This is usually a result of inadequate infrastructure provisions in rapidly urbanizing parts of the city. I always wonder why our cities have such a love-hate relationship with rivers. In Vijayawada, a spot for holy ablutions and a spot where sewage from houses is spewed into the river are separated by a few 100 meters. Not to forget, the kids playing cricket on the low tide portion of the river between these two spots.

But this is NOT a post about cities and riverfronts. This is a post about public toilets.
What is it about Indian cities and the neglect of these much needed public amenities?
Why are we constantly forced to deface our public realm with our feces and the smell of urine?
What about human dignity going for a toss every time someone flashes their privates because they ‘just had to go’?
These aren’t a new set of questions… we’ve all felt this rage at some point or the other.
And then, as I ask these clichéd questions, there is also Albert Einstein’s quote in which I seek refuge now-
‘The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.’

So last week, armed with a water bottle, I sauntered along the streets of Vijayawada, trying to grasp the nature of the city’s relationship with the Krishna river that flows through it. As always, I tried not to look too touristy or conspicuous because I like my privacy while on such expeditions; this also means not being too snap happy because that is a sure way to attract attention especially in smaller cities where the ‘people watching people’ thing is magnified. I make mental notes and pull out my phone to take a quick picture once in a while if I find the ‘frame’ so compelling.

But lo and behold… right at the entrance to the Krishnaveni Pushkaram ghats, Vijayawada surprised me like no other city in a long time. Oh yes… it was time to pull out my camera. Apparently, the city had arrived at a solution to the issue of public toilets… or perhaps was in the process of arriving at one?



* The term ghat refers to a series of steps leading down to a body of water, particularly a holy river.

Vidhya is a reserved architect and an impassioned urban designer with over a decade of work experience in India, Ireland and the United States. She has also been teaching as a guest faculty at various institutions since she returned to India in 2008. In other parallel albeit real universes, she is a wishful artist, an avid wanderer, a constant gardener and a newly enthused cook.

About Vidhya Mohankumar

Vidhya Mohankumar is an architect and urban designer with over a decade of work experience in India, Ireland and the United States and a passion for creating livable cities. She is the founder of Urban Design Collective (UDC), a collaborative platform for architects, urban designers and planners to create livable cities through participatory planning. Vidhya also advocates sustainable development through training and capacity building programmes for various stakeholder groups and also within academia through her association with a number of universities as guest faculty. In other parallel albeit real universes, she is a wishful artist, an avid wanderer, a constant gardener and a newly enthused cook.


6 thoughts on “The Curse of the Public Toilet

  1. Oh wow! That was completely unexpected! So are these in fact for public use?? I don’t see how, since they’re filled with soil?!? Did anyone have answers? Or maybe it’s an art installation!

    Posted by devangiramakrishnan | August 28, 2013, 7:14 pm
  2. @Devangi thats what I thought too! That its probably an art installation for dialogue on Defecating In The Open or something?
    Regardless, I also find it this incredibly funny – like those photographs on the internet with hilarious misspellings on signage, especially in Indian cities. Its just so.. off, that its funny!

    Posted by Shruti Shankar | August 28, 2013, 9:05 pm
  3. Can any one tell from which location in vijayawada this photo is taken

    Posted by Kumar | August 29, 2013, 2:31 pm
  4. Hey, I think your blog might be having browser compatibility issues.
    When I look at your blog site in Chrome, it looks fine but when opening in Internet Explorer,
    it has some overlapping. I just wanted tto give you a quick heads up!
    Othwr then that, fantastic blog!

    Posted by more than voice over morgan freeman | June 17, 2014, 12:52 pm

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