We’re certainly not the first commentators to observe this scourge. You see them everywhere you go in Delhi, and you smell them everywhere they’ve been.
I don’t believe the reason is a lack of public conveniences so much as their inaccessibility, situated as they are in neighborhood markets; most of the peeing I noticed takes place on Delhi’s broad, featureless boulevards lined by cement walls that segregate those who live inside from those they want to keep out. These roads are plied by men who travel long distances and don’t have time to negotiate neighborhoods in search of public toilets. Thus, with the sheer volume of men on the roads, your journey from any Point A to any Point B will inevitably pass dozens of Point Ps along the way.
I’m a critic of this practice, as most men would claim to be if you asked them. And like most men, I suspect, I’m also indulgent in it, having peed on the side of a Delhi road exactly one time: commuting in the office cab with my coworkers, we decided to celebrate the fact of a Friday night with beer and booze on the ride home. And somewhere in the wilds of Vasant Kunj, nature called, and we all spilled out of the cab and on to the ground.
But even if each one of the male half of the 16 million Delhiites were like me, peeing once a year in a moment of desperation, that’s still 21,949 men peeing on the road any given day. And if the problem is even slightly more habitual, with each man averaging 10 times a year, then you’ve suddenly got 219,490 men urinating on just 25,000 kilometers of road every day. That’s one man per hundred meters. Suddenly you realize this fixture of the urban landscape is less about manners and more about inward-focused urban planning that leaves street-sides featureless and anonymous—good for nothing but passing by and peeing on.
There are two techniques to dissuade men from peeing on a wall: using shame, and using divinity. Our downstairs neighbor, Benoy, a crazy old man with wild white hair who constantly told us that his fellow countrymen “can’t be trusted,” would shout from his terrace at men peeing on the street below until they pinched off, zipped up, and moved on; rumor has it that he would sometimes chase after them down the road. Our other neighbor, Amba, relied on her gift for aphorism: she would sidle up to a leaky fellow and ask, “If you do it in the road, what is the difference between you and a stray dog?” These men, too, would stop and go somewhere else.
The other way to stop the urinaters is to cement tile portraits of Hanuman or Krishna or Sai Baba or Jesus into the wall. No man will pee on another man’s god.
It goes without saying, of course, that we never saw any women peeing on the street. Modesty forbids it: no matter how bad a woman has to go, she had to hold it until she is somewhere decent. As always, life is much worse for the female.