The story of the loco pilot taking an unofficial leak made news on Thursday. But surely, it made most of us think, what does a person do when they have to go urgently but there's nowhere to go? Bad enough to be in such a situation and worse still, to be filmed in the process.
The man was taking care of his business and he should have been left alone in peace. But this is not an isolated incident, it seems. There is a WhatsApp forward doing the rounds, of a motorman in a similar predicament who came up with the exact same solution in France, in 1956.
But what is a person to do on one of the coldest days in winter, a Monday, naturally, when he is overpowered by the realization that he has to go, but is in a car on a snowbound expressway, driving to his new place of work? You would cry too if it happened to you. This is what happened to me over a decade ago, once upon a cold winter day, when I lived in the United States.
It was my first day at a new job. The company was on the south side of Chicago, about 55 miles from my home. I was to report to work at 8.30am. Snow was forecast that day. I left home before 6.30am, to avoid the morning rush hour.
The familiar, small roads were relatively clear of snow. After driving on them for 15-20 minutes, I reached the expressway, which was in a bad shape. As is the case on such days, cars had slid off the highway and were lying by the wayside.
Traffic had slowed down to a crawl. It had started snowing during the night, which had made the roads slick. It was terribly cold outside and the heater in my trusty old Nissan Altima was on, full blast. As the warmth washed over me, I sensed my bladder was getting full.
The first stage in such a case is complete denial. Everything is fine, I deluded myself. I am going to weather the storm. Sooner or later, the traffic would clear, I would be able to make up lost time, reach my destination and make it to a restroom on time.
But the reality was: Progress was slow and the traffic reports on the radio were not encouraging. As my car trundled along, the pressure on my bladder was accelerating.
Now, doubts began to creep in about my holding power. Suddenly, I was not so sure. The game plan had to be changed. It would be most prudent to take the nearest exit and look for a restroom.
All this while, I had been trudging along in the left lane but all exits leading to smaller roads were on the right. I thought taking one of the smaller roads would lead me to a restroom, so now, I had to make my way, slowly and carefully to the extreme right lane, as I could see a traffic light there, leading to a road.
Much to the annoyance of the drivers behind me, I had to cut across them as I made it there. But the traffic light stayed green only fleetingly and I had to await my turn. The pain in my bladder was getting unbearable and I was restless.
As I waited for the signal to turn green, I realized I did not have a spare pair of pants. After a certain age, one stops having 'accidents' of the bathroom variety. But these were extenuating circumstances.
What if I did? The only option would be to return home. I could not go to a store looking for a pair of pants, in my wet pants. What a disgrace! And what would I tell my employer? That I needed half-a-day off on my first day at work because I had wet my pants! And what would my kids have said? Execrable things, for sure, and laughed their heads off.
Daddy, you were so nervous that you wet your pants on your first day at a new job? It was a fluid situation, a nightmare. A few hours ago, I'd have laughed my head off had someone predicted my short-term future -- that I would be frantically looking for a restroom on Monday morning.
I cursed myself for drinking that extra glass of water at home and in my car. From now on, the golden rule would be: No hydration just before leaving or in the car.
Just then, the signal turned green and I was on that beloved road after a right turn. However, the relief was shortlived. I had found an exit but it was a small, long road, with very few establishments, huge corn fields on one side and barren land on the other.
By now, I was in the final and crucial stage of my ordeal -- painfully desperate. Could not even risk a cynical laugh. All else was a blur. My one aim in life was to find a restroom. I was this solitary soul with one bodily need in this vast universe, which only a restroom could offer.
It was still Monday morning on a snow day before 9am and the businesses were yet to open. At this point, even the simple act of turning into a lane, parking my car, walking up to the place, returning and driving off seemed unbearable. Even the slightest movement was painful.
I walked into a small establishment as normally as I could and politely asked the person behind the counter if there was a restroom on the premises. Cruelly, he said no. I grimaced and without asking for an explanation or arguing, took off. Dilli dur ast.
I continued on that small winding road. The sight of the cornfields on my right made me think of relieving myself there. But what if a policeman caught me peeing? Imagine being ticketed for such an offence! If my driving licence got suspended, I would have to stay home for a few weeks, unless I took a cab every day, a very expensive option. What if someone clicked a picture and called the police?
So, I continued driving silently and remorsefully for the next ten minutes, numb with pain. Enough of this getting down and returning to my car business, I told myself. The next time I did that, I was sure there would be an accident, and it would not be of the motoring kind.
Finally, I decided to try my luck at a fast food place. When the staffer courteously pointed to the restroom, I wanted to kiss them. But first, I had to take care of urgent business. The situation was delicate.
Finally, relief washed over me. I was flush with exultation. I deliberately lingered in the restroom for a while. I deserved these extra moments, after all the torture I had gone through. Who says fast food joint offerings are ruinous to health? This one had saved my life.
I came out feeling triumphant. The ordeal was finally over. I bid adieu to the person behind the counter, offering thanks. I felt like pumping my fists and flexing my arms. I had done it. Finally. The sun was shining and the birds were chirping. It was a new day and a new world and I was stepping into it for the first time.
I came back to the same intersection where I had taken a right and from there, hopped onto a couple of expressways and reached work. The roads had cleared and traffic was better. I was late, of course, but so were others. So all's well that ends well. Don’t we all love happy endings?
Nikhil Bhagat is a former research chemist.