You’re out on the town. You need to go. But where? In Dhaka, Bangladesh, you could hail one of the fleet of bicycle rickshaw toilets that have been introduced to assist in a city that has 17 public toilets for 15 million people. In any city in the UK, head for a pub, café or museum. Those are probably your only options because half of public toilets have closed over the past decade. Manchester now has only one public bathroom for a population of half a million people; London has one public convenience for every 16,000 people. And if the pub is crowded, the shop is closed and the museum too far? Stay at home. Age UK, a charity, estimates that millions of elderly Britons won’t leave their house for fear of not finding a toilet, a condition known as the Bladder Leash.
It is liquid, yellowish and almost odorless, at first. You might think it is no big deal to spray it around in public. But urine is not innocuous. Though sterile inside the body, it becomes smelly and noxious once exposed to the environment. Its ammonia can change the color of wallpaper; its uric acid can erode stone. Little wonder city authorities dislike public pissers. The local government in Sydney, Australia, spends AUS$10 million a year cleaning up public micturition. Others prefer preventative measures: in London, pop-up urinals appear at peak peeing times such as Saturday nights or football matches. (They are for men only, of course: women have to hold it in, or pee standing up as Ancient Egyptian women did.) Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoë has introduced €500 (US$680) fines for transgressors, and also installed an “anti-pipi” wall designed to spray urine back in the direction of its owner. In India, where public urination is endemic, Mumbai’s authorities have turned to the heavens rather than technology. Calculating that even the most defiant public urinators wouldn’t dare pee on Jesus or Krishna, they have hung pictures of various religious figures – and a mosque, for Muslims – on the worst-affected areas of the city. And behold, the peeing stopped.
Holiness requires hygiene. Nearly all religions lay down rules for believers to follow, if they want to be clean enough to pray with purity. Don’t expect them to be always logical: Hindus have decided cow dung is holy, and ancient Mesopotamians wore it in necklaces to ward off evil.
Deuteronomy 23:13 instructs Jews to bury their excrement with a spade, outside the camp. The Dead Sea Scrolls specify it should be a distance of 1,000 cubits in a northwesterly direction. For extra holiness, recite the Asher Yatzar blessing afterwards, thanking God for maintaining your openings and hollows, as “if one of them ruptures or blocks it would be impossible to survive and stand before You (even for a short period).”
The Vinaya Pitaka, a 2,000-year-old rulebook for Buddhist monks, instructs you to cough on approaching an outhouse to alert anyone inside. If your cough is not reciprocated, remove your robe and hang it neatly outside. While defecating, do not groan, clean your teeth or spit. Use the time to meditate instead, and always refill the water jug for the next visitor to wash their hands.
The Vishnu Purana requires you to be at least 45 meters away from any water source before defecating. Do your business silently, with your head covered by a cloth. Do not face the sun, the moon, a fire or a member of the Brahmin caste. Alternatively, stand outside your house, fire an arrow and defecate beyond its landing point.
The Hadith – the sayings of the Prophet – instruct good Muslims to remove all rings before entering a latrine. Then step inside left foot first, and defecate facing neither towards nor away from Mecca, but side-on. Use an odd number of stones (preferably three) to wipe your anus, then emerge right foot first. Once outside, wash your backside with water, scrupulously. Praying while dirty is wrong.
If you are a male Sikh, the Desa Singh Rahit Nama instructs you to wake up early, bathe, put on your comb, knife, bracelet and turban, take a vessel filled with water and go out to defecate. After defecation wash your anus with your left hand and rub the area with earth. You may then take up your weapons.
Jains should construct their houses in harmony with flows of Prana (life energy). A toilet, which should always be situated to the northwest of your dwelling, can be next to a child’s room but not near a study. Using a home latrine is advisable, as after defecating you can’t enter a temple until your clothes have been thoroughly washed.