Girls and Toilets – a book review

I Need to Pee
Neha Singh
Art Meenal Singh and Erik Egerup

Puffin India  INR 199/

The Indian Government has been talking about ending open defecation and building a toilet in every village home so that women do not have to go out into the fields at night and Narendra Modi reaffirmed this commitment last November on World Toilet. The habit of open defecation, part from being unhygienic was triggering kidnaps and rapes in many cases. However, the matter of toilets for urban girls in schools and other public places still remains an issue. In I Need to Pee, Neha Singh brings the matter to the forefront with the story of Rahi, a very normal little girl who likes drinking coconut water, orange juice, soda and other kinds of fluids. She does this very often on buses, trains and while travelling, driving her mother around the bend.

Through the story, Singh highlights the problems little girls from the cities face when the loos they are presented with are stinky and wet. Rahi, however, has a book of useful quotes that she brings out on appropriate occasions, forcing people to let her have her own way and getting them into trouble. Rahi browbeats bus drivers, Sikh doormen at five star hotels and a woman determined to fleece her at a public toilet.No one asks to look at the book and quite obviously it was cooked up by the little girl herself.

She also describes the toilet of her dreams, an ‘Indian’ style dry toilet that she encounters in her aunt’s house in the North Eastern State of Meghalaya where poop is covered by mud kept in the toilet for the purpose. Singh’s text is accompanied by quirky illustrations by a Bangalore based team that makes the book delightful to flip through.

However, it is obvious that this version of the story is for little girls only and while it performs an important task, perhaps another book needs to be done for little boys who are also open to worries about toilets – not to mention the recent news item of a child who was murdered in a school toilet. And, while dry toilets may be hygienic, can they replace the western style potty that dominates most urban Indian homes?