AT THE GOVERNMENT REST HOUSE in Burhanpur, Madhya Pradesh, where my family and I were ensconced in the VIP room, I went in search of the attendant. “I need a couple towels,” I told him. Helpful until then, he looked puzzled by this unexpected demand. But helpful nevertheless, he led me down the corridor to a locked room, opened it and pointed a crooked finger at a large dusty wooden trunk in the corner. Following his finger, we walked over, he opened it, and pulled out a piece of cloth that may once have been white, may once have been a towel.
“It’s the only towel we have,” he said, “and the other attendant is using it right now. If you don’t mind, you can use it too.”
I spluttered, declined politely and returned to our room towel-less. Such is the treatment, I reflected yet again, that VIP room occupants are subjected to in such establishments. For I have been in government rest house VIP rooms before, and if not towels in use by someone else—this is a new one, for sure—I’ve contended with bare, live electric leads in wet bathrooms, unidentifiable but definitely not human objects strolling around the toilet, and walls painted red with paan-spit. Tonight in Burhanpur, we’ll just find some other way to towel ourselves dry. Towards that end, the bedsheets look tempting. At least they have been used, so far, only by us.