Traveling, in fact the thought of traveling, triggers off a major shut down in my lower gastrointestinal system. This protective mechanism has served me rather well except on a few occasions.
Despite the fact that toilets in the Indian Railways have improved significantly in the last decade, it is still a bit of a gut stopping experience and that is literal!. One, of course, has a choice between Western and Indian ‘styles’. Do not take the use of the word style too seriously. There is nothing ‘stylish’ about both. The western ‘style’ usually comes without a seat. This is a frightening proposition particularly for some one with a narrow hip and waist, say a child or an anorexic fashion model. On the other hand, the few that have a seat are invariably soiled. Men, as we know, do not care to lift the toilet seats before using it. I know of one friend who carries a newspaper which he expertly cuts and uses as a protective barrier between his butt and the seat. On the few occasions when I have needed to sit/ squat, I have shown immense patriotism by choosing the Indian ‘style’ which consists of two platforms to place your feet on while you squat. Between the two platforms is a metallic receptacle that has a gradient leading to a hole which empties on to the railway tracks. If you look carefully, there is usually a tap in front of the seating arrangement which has a pushing device to dispense water. I have seen no use for it except as an anchor to hold on to while you go about your business. How one effectively uses the water that comes out of it is beyond me. Of late the Indian Railways has provided a mug chained to the tap (or to some contraption at the side). This chain is about a foot long and one cannot expect to use it meaningfully for anything. A longer chain would no doubt have dragged itself over so many undesirable areas making it a messy business. Not having a security chain will understandably result in some one taking it home. My advice is to use toilet paper or carry your own mug if you cannot manage without water (as is the case with most of us Indians). The flush works half heartedly, and certainly does not do its intended work. The Railway however urges you to flush before and after use. The Indian Railway also requests you to not use the toilet while the train is stopped at a Station. It certainly is a reasonable request to prevent passengers at Railway station platforms from having to see unsightly heaps on the track while waiting for their train to arrive. On the other hand it is an unreasonable request on the toilet user. Aiming for a 4 inch hole while the train banks from side to side needs quite some experience. If you are squatting on an Indian style toilet the chances are that you will not only miss the target but may end up soiling your ankles as well.
I have heard of all kind of things going down the chute of the toilets- wallets, glasses and cell phones. A most bizarre story was recently reported in the Indian newspapers. A woman delivered a child and she chose to do so in the toilet of a running train. The mother watched aghast as the new born disappeared down the toilet chute on to the tracks. Hearing the distressed mother, the train was stopped by fellow passengers, who pulled the emergency chain. They found the child on the tracks a kilometer away, a little soiled but without a scratch- alive and kicking. Happy endings are common in India!