Squatting | India | Living in Mexico


Eating raita and nan in a roadhouse during our driver's chai break, a man shuffled past my table, duckwalking like Bo Diddley coming onstage at the Brooklyn Paramount Theater. In his hand, he held a bundle of reeds he was using to sweep the floor. His gait was awkward, almost comical.

I thought to myself, "Why doesn't the café owner buy the poor man a proper broom. One with a broomstick?"

Well, they don't make brooms like that in India—at least the parts of India I was seeing. Everyone squats to sweep.


Indian brooms consist of bundles of reeds about eighteen inches long, held in a hollow plastic handle. They're in all the markets.


I don't really know why Indian brooms are so short. Of course, Indian people hunker. They sit on their haunches from childhood. When Indian men gather to play cards, they squat in a circle for hours. So Indians are comfortable close to the ground. Might as well sweep, long as you're down there.

Long ago I lost the flexibility to hunker. The best my stiff legs will allow is squatting with my heels raised, my feet bent sharply at the toes. It's painful, and I can only do it for a few minutes. I can't handle that flat-footed squat that Indian people seem to do with such ease.


Because of my lack of flexibility, I find it virtually impossible to use squat toilets. I tend to lose my balance—something that believe me, you don't want to do in that situation. Westerners are so awkward using them, the web is loaded with how-to guides.

But we're not the only ones that need toilet instruction. People accustomed to the old-fashioned approach apparently become baffled when confronted with modern toilets. They need instruction on how to use them.


Image: Lyevkin, Flickr

This shouldn't be surprising. I'm guessing 90% of our six billion people never sat on a toilet in their lives. I read somewhere that more than a billion don't have any kind of toilet facilities. I initially fond the sign an exercise in the obvious. Guess not.