I have this habit. I’ve had it for years – and it’s only a lot more recently that I’ve realised it’s somewhat weird, to say the least.
A little bit of background (and I should probably warn you – TMI is about to happen). I pee a lot. More than most people. A combination of a small bladder and the need to drink water every time I get restless will do that.
But that’s not the weird habit I was talking about. Every time I need to pee (which can sometimes be every 45 minutes), I tell the people around me exactly where I’m going. It started with my mom, extended to my friends and now I even do it at work – stand up every now and then (usually now), and announce that I’m going to pee.
What’s the point of all of this? To explain why the minute I read about Rahi, the protagonist of Neha Singh’s children’s book I Need to Pee, I felt an instant connection. Me, a 26-year-old adult (at least officially), felt nothing but a complete sense of understanding when I read this short, sweet and absolutely lovely story about a little girl and her complicated relationship with bathrooms.
It’s not only Rahi’s near-constant need to pee that draws you to her – it’s also her unabashed acceptance of it. Singh’s story is not only about a girl who often needs to pee and the hurdles India’s lack of clean public toilets creates for her; it’s also about a girl who knows that the problem isn’t her – she deserves access to a clean toilet at all times, and makes sure to explain that to all the adults who try and get in her way. She has a (self-written) Book of Important Quotes full of gems she brings out whenever someone is coming in
between her and a bathroom: “Do not be scared to ask the teacher to let you go to the toilet, no matter how many times you have to go”; “According to the law, anyone can ask for water and use the toilet in any hotel”; “Bus drivers must stop the bus when little girls want to pee”.
Rahi’s problem is one that’s really easy to understand. A report released towards the end of last year found that there are 732 million people in India without access to toilets. The fact that clean sanitation facilities are hard to come by is an even larger problem for women – not just because they don’t have the male entitlement that brings with it the ability to pee against (or even just in the vicinity of) any wall anywhere, but more because it means that they are more prone to both harassment and illness.
Without talking about any of this, Singh – and the beautiful art by Meenal Singh and Erik Egerup that accompanies her words – brings to life these realities through the eyes of a little girl who is so endearing that you can’t ignore her.
Now, when I announce that I’m going to pee, I feel pleased with the Rahi in me – owning the fact that we all pee, and maybe if we talked about it a little more, we wouldn’t have to hold our noses, look behind our backs or hold it in quite so often. “Children should always have a safe toilet experience,” Rahi writes in her book of quotes. And so should everyone else.