Burial at Sea by Gitanjali Dang

Some of her most intimate encounters have been with women in public toilets.


Shuffling. Button. Zipper. Pulling down of pants. Rustling up of sari. Peeling away of underwear. Piss. Toilet paper. Flush.


She was not cruising. She was not aroused. She was just curious; like an anthropologist looking for that big encounter.


These excursions are, however, more and more impossible. Because shy bladder is now a full-blown epidemic, with women spending a minimum of 15 minutes each day mastering their Kegel muscles in order to control the velocity and sound of their streams. When they are not invested in expanding and contracting these muscles, they are fine-tuning their hover and learning just how much and where to hover in order for their piss to make the least possible sound.


Needless to say, our protagonist has a forceful bladder, the sort that can compete with the sound of a running tap. The rapid rise of shy bladder has meant that she and her like have been forced underground. Because all loos everywhere are under surveillance and every woman who has succumbed to the epdemic has become part of its network of recruiters.


Word on the street though is that a resistance is rising. It has its people lurking around loos to keep a ear out for those who have wilfully dodged the epidemic. Indeed, it was, and still is, assembling a counter network called Sonic Markers (SM).


Its motto: Elephants and some spiders can communicate through the ground by producing seismic activity and a woman’s piss can be incendiary at will.


Its conviction: Women’s public toilets are scientific laboratories supported by a humongous sociopolitical apparatus working against women’s liberation.


In the spirit of offering herself against social apparatus, our protagonist even let an artist record and sample the sibilant sound of her piss for his downtempo album Otohime’s Revenge.


Said artist had all but walked into her when she was taking a dangerously loud and long leak behind a car in a parking lot. While no place is really free from the prying ears of the epidemic, every now and then she breaks away from her toilet routine, precarious as it is, and relieves herself in a parking lot or a park or some such.


The artist implored her in the name of the resistance and she gave in. But she mostly gave in because she totally dug the idea of scensters at a club or a gallery going delirious at her subliminal music that came entangled in beats and foghorns and the sounds of the Arabian Sea.


Somewhat predictably, they hooked up right after the recording session. Not long after, she asked if the artist would consider their taking a shit together. She was convinced it was the test their relationship would not survive and she more than wanted it – to not survive, that is. Her immovable belief is that the survival rate of a couple that takes a shit together is less than the survival rate of a couple who have lost their only child. The mere thought of it made her heart pound but artist dude doubled up laughing, and stuck both his middle fingers out to express himself fully.


In response, she rather quixotically suggested that they go on a colon cleanse date, hold hands and sit side by side, as jets of water flush out the gunk from the back of their intestinal beyonds. But he would have none of this either.


A few weeks later, when they parted ways anyway, the artist person – smarting at his sudden defenestration – felt obliged to offer a pithy analysis of her character. He said, ‘You don’t love yourself, you refuse to sleep in beds and you never invite me to your home. We could never be together.’


She shrugged her shoulders and began scat singing, ‘Zoob zoob zoob zoooob skoo ska ba bi day do bo ba deeeee.’ She knew she should not have but she could not stop herself, and so just like that she went from dumping someone, to taking a dump on someone.


She has sat through one too many conversations where, struck by her keen interest in the scatological, people have dropped the F word, as in the F bomb, as in Freud, as in typical Freudian shit. All said and done though, she doesn’t mind Freud. The thing she likes best about him is that he wrote in German. She likes the language. She doesn’t speak it but that doesn’t stop her from having a thing for it. She likes that warmduscher is a popular German insult. Warmduscher i.e. someone who takes warm showers, so, basically, someone quite like herself. Except she prefers her baths hot. A little shy of scalding hot, actually.


She is amused in a sort of not-amused way that she is drawn to German – a language many people find cold and distant – because after all, what good is a language if it isn’t emotionally unavailable?


Coming back to hot water though. She is of the belief that it can dissolve everything, or at least anything. So of course, falling in love with a woman who felt similarly about hot baths came to her like leaves to a tree. It helped that the woman came with a forceful bladder that could shake up the epidemic.


Following her break up with the artist, her search for the resistance intensified and she plunged headlong into the world of toilets. She visited every public and as many private toilets as she could. And then it happened.


It was an unusually cold winter day. Not too inclined to venture deep into the city, on the coldest day Bombay had witnessed in 65 years, she visited a public toilet not far from her apartment. All stalls, barring the one at the very far end, were empty. Having long since realised that corner stalls are the most conducive to standing motionless and listening, she was patiently waiting for her turn to enter, when from within came a sound unlike any she had ever heard.


When the woman finally emerged from the stall she introduced herself as the founder of Sonic Markers and complemented our protagonist on her performance on Otohime’s Revenge. The founder person remarked, ‘I chuckled at the pretentious title but was totally into your song and so here I am like a whale drawn to her inveterate composer.’ Minutes later the pair was walking in the direction of the protagonist’s home. This was a hugely unprecedented development because home is where no one else could ever be and that’s just the way it has always been.


At the apartment, at the request of the founder she hit play on Otohime’s Revenge. Leading the resistance meant that hot baths were few and far between and so the protagonist offered to prepare one for them. While she busied herself with the task, the founder floated around to the music, finally reaching the balcony overlooking the Arabian, where she lingered.


Later in the tub, they studied each other’s bodies in a manner that was more clinical than amorous. Or perhaps, it was intensely amorous because it was so clinical. The lover was particularly taken up by the discovery of an acute bruise on the inner thigh of the protagonist’s left leg. She teased, ‘Another lover?’ ‘I’ve had this lover since I was a baby,’ the protagonist responded, smiling.


It’s true; Bombay bruises her. The bruises come in all shapes and sizes and linger on for different lengths of time. Only sporadically does she have a memory of what may have caused a particular bruise, for the most part though they turn up unprovoked. She watches out for them and maintains a photo journal. If the journal is to be believed, then there has never been a day when she has been bruise-less in Bombay. Her bathroom is halfway to becoming a hall of mirrors; the mirrors help keep track of bruises, which turn up in unlikely places.


Just to clarify, she only ever bruises in Bombay and so she makes it a point never to leave Bombay. Recently she got pretty into the idea that her swirling blueblackpurple bruises are in fact galaxies. Such unlikely transference sometimes makes her look weirdly luminescent, like a creature visiting from some far-flung galaxy.


Later when they lay in the deckchair on her balcony, the lover absentmindedly traced the nebulous edges of the bruise on her thigh. Their bodies became more and more entwined as they pressed together for body heat. The protagonist gloomily looked at the sea and said out loud, ‘Water, water, every where, / Nor any drop to drink.’ A couple of minutes of silence passed before she added, ‘Tennyson.’


Eventually body heat proved inadequate and they headed back in. Our protagonist never sleeps in beds – it’s an ancient rule of war. But for her she made an exception and for the first time ever slept in the bed she made daily.


Damn. Love is bad for her. Love makes her want to sleep in beds alongside warm bodies. Beds are not good for her. There has not been a bed that has been kind to her. On the few occasions that she has slept in a bed, she has woken up puffy eyed, wishing she would stop shedding. Losing all her eyelashes to such shedding is a recurring fear. She has already singed a bunch while lighting cigarettes off stoves and is certain beds will claim the rest.


The following morning, the lover set about packing her haversack. She was leading the resistance and had places to be. Looking up from her packing she held out two pullovers and asked for the protagonist’s opinion, ‘Red or black?’ Protagonist picked red knowing it would be easier to spot in a crowd.


Before leaving, the lover cleared her throat gently and inquired, ‘Come with?’ ‘I couldn’t leave here,’ the protagonist whispered.


In the street heads turned as they quickly and awkwardly kissed goodbye. The lover pressed an envelope in her hand just before she turned to leave. The protagonist waited and watched as the red sweater slowly dissolved into the crowd. She then walked back home, where she opened the envelope and laughed out loud. Inside the envelope she found a picture of Borges peeing at a public urinal. On the back of the photo were the words, ‘The resistance is not without a sense of humour.’


For several nights that followed the protagonist slept in her bathtub. This was hardly a first. She often slips into sleep in the tub. Bathtubs drain her debris away. Their plugholes are the secret portals of her ghost refinery. She has never lost an eyelash to a bathtub. Her earliest memory is from the time she was four or thereabouts. She was sitting in a bathtub, staring at her pruned hands and wondering, ‘am I here to save the world? Am I god?’


One evening not long ago though, she surprised herself when she stripped her bed of its linen, bedding and pillows and settled down on the exposed wood. She was just laying around in her new sleeping situation and feeling a touch smug about having discovered it, when it occurred to her that she may’ve wrongly attributed the lines to Tennyson. She ran to the bookshelf. Sure enough, it was Coleridge.


The misattribution became a niggling regret. She wanted to correct herself but couldn’t or wouldn’t or something.


Instead, she pulled the bathroom door off of its hinges and placed it horizontal on the floor of the living room, where it continues to lie like some mojo-deprived, crash-landed, magic carpet.


Once that was out of the way, she proceeded to reread the poem until the time she was done memorising it in full. She had always wanted to be buried in her bathtub, but knowing the poem by heart changed her heart. She now wants to somehow impregnate the geography of the sea. Perhaps, she could be a latitude or a longitude, that would be cool.


After some consideration she makes a note in the margin of the Rime: To be first incinerated and then flushed down the toilet because in this shit city that too is a burial at sea.




This short fiction piece was written for the show 1497, curated by Lantian Xie at Green Art Gallery, Dubai.



Gitanjali Dang is curator at Khanabadosh and writer at large. She has been working on her first novel forever and it’s about time she finished. She lives, loves and works in Mumbai and wherever else this living, loving and working might take her.