Fuad Lokhandwala is unaware he's a role model India needs on its way to modernity.
Let's face it: for all the many things we Indians can be justly proud, we do suffer from an incompetence when it comes to sanitation. Some would even judge us a vicious society. After all, have we not for centuries expected a whole caste of fellow Indians to clean up after us? How little we train our children in toilet use. How terrible our public --and frequently, even private-- toilets are. How shoddily we design, build and maintain them. Gandhi, wise as he was to Indians' ways, chastised us and urged us to clean our own latrines. Alas, to little avail. The best groomed Indian often leaves a wrecked toilet behind. It is not surprising that we are a laughing stock around the world in this regard. Truth is, we have an uncomfortable, unprocessed mind mess when it comes to toilets and our responsibility towards them. Now at last we have an Indian, who is aware of this problem; who is proud of creating and maintaining sparkling public toilets. If Fuad Lokhandwala is emulated widely, there is hope yet, that we will correct a gross flaw in our collective outlook.
A Jay Leno jibe:
The year was 1998. India had thumped its chest and declared itself nuclear. Indians brimmed with pride. The world reacted with anger, threats and sanctions. All that flew over the heads of gleeful Indians. Fuad too was euphoric-- but he stopped dead in his tracks one day, while watching a Jay Leno Show on TV. The burly wit had said something to the effect, "Indians can build nuke bombs but they can't build decent toilets." It hurt. And yet, as with the best of humour, how true!
Fuad was in his forties and had spent 25 years of his life in the USA, as a student and as a professional. "I loved it there -- the energy, the systems, the order. I longed for India to be up near there someday," he says. "It puzzled me as to what we lacked. What was it that we must get right?" Back in India he had not quite settled down to life in Delhi. He was unsure as to what he should be doing. A routine 'job' made no sense.
What he didn't quite know about himself was that he was a Yankee style entrepreneur. Jay Leno uncorked that. Fuad's obsession began that moment: "I will build world class public toilets!" It is obvious that such a resolve would invite ridicule in India. His loving wife Mehru and daughter Sanaa were 'deeply concerned'! But an obsession must run its course.
Not 'pay', but 'paying' toilets:
After six months of trying to sell his 'crazy' vision, Fuad had the ears of K J Alphonse, an activist bureaucrat. Alphonse was apprehensive but nevertheless took him to 'his minister', Jag Mohan. Fuad had their attention. Yes, it was time we built toilets we need not be ashamed of, but how would we fund them. It was one thing to get New Delhi Municipal Corporation [NDMC] or Delhi Development Authority [DDA] to permit him to build his dream toilets, but where would the money come from for maintenance and as return on investment? After all, you can't load on the user all that it costs to build and run.