January 4, 2007

Optimal Bladder Control

When you've got to go, you've got to go! Well, not in India, and not if you are as squeamish as I am about peeing au naturel, or in the filthiest public toilets that one could possibly imagine. If you plan to have your day in the city, you'd be well advised to plan your itinerary very, very, carefully. Experience in the application of optimal control theory to biological systems and processes will come in quite handy. For the uninitiated, optimal control theory is concerned with the mathematics of minimizing the cost of achieving a time variant objective. That's a mouthful, but Wikipedia has a good introduction. Unless you are President Bush or Chairman Gates, however, you better not be among the uninitiated. If you belonged to the females of the species, you would do well to have a doctorate in optimal bladder control.

A past doctor in the application of optimal control theory, I sat down the night before the trip to design my system. The objective is to control the state of my bladder over an eight hour period out of home, while minimizing the cost. Over the decades, I've developed a fairly good idea of how long I can hold, before becoming an embarrassment to myself and those around me. As a Google M.D., I am also aware that holding it for too long and too often, can be injurious to my health — causing something as mundane as urinary infection to something as serious as kidney failure. Waving aside the admonishment that a little knowledge is more dangerous than none, I decided that with controlled input, I could safely phase the output at two hour intervals. Here is my journal of the planned and actual evolution of the OBC system:

Who Says Coffee is a Stimulant?

Coffee. I can't be too careful with caffeine, can I? As a veteran of countless committee meetings, I know only too well that the power of coffee could not be underestimated. Want the meeting to be short and sweet, with all ayes and no debate? Insist on serving plenty of free coffee, preferably black, before the start of the meeting. It works like magic! For a day out in India, though, plan to have your coffee well ahead, and take the last pee seconds before stepping out. Ignore the advice, and I assure you that you'll be depressed all the way to the next pee-stop, even if you had just been jolted into the hyperspace by a Turkish coffee!

Chaos and Jumps

Deterministic optimal control is of little use in India. And those who are familiar with the stuff know that stochastic optimal control is a tough nut to crack. Unpredictable jumps in the process make it almost impossible to solve. That's exactly what happens on the chaotic Indian roadways, especially during the peak hours. "Mansur, how many such signals before we reach the Spencer Plaza?", I asked, beginning to feel a bit depressed after spending 20 minutes at the signal that we just passed. "I don't remember, sir. Why do you ask?" replied Mansur, turning his head around. With one look at my distressed face, he quickly asked in a concerned voice, "Should I turn into the next alley, sir?" "No, no, keep driving", I said with as much bravado as I could muster.

A Surprise Visit

Three more signals, and an hour later, I realized that I must nudge the system a bit to keep it on the optimal trajectory. I started searching feverishly my encyclopedia of all the aunts, uncles, and cousins, to find the nearest one. Ah, good old Mani is just a few blocks of detour. "Hello, Mani! Haven't seen you in ages. May I use your toilet?" That should work. "Mansur, please turn left into the street ahead."

Knock, knock.

"Who's there?" asked a woman's voice.

Is Mani married? Of course he is, you dumbass. He must be in his forties now. "This is Krish."

"Krish, who?"

"Krish, you know, Mani's cousin. From the States," I added to properly impress her. The door opened, and I stepped in.

"I am Geetha, Mrs. Mani. Please come in. I don't think we have ever met," Geetha said with a namaste.

"No, we haven't. I haven't seen Mani either for years. So, I thought I'd drop in..."

"Should Mani have expected you? He has already left for work, you know?" Of course, it was 9:30 in the morning and a weekday.

"Oh, he has?" I said, trying to sound disappointed. Should I pop the question or not? Well, what the heck...

"Hehe... may I use your toilet, please?"

What a Break!

Fast forward by a couple of hours. Shopping is fun these days in India. The air-conditioned shopping arcades combine the comforts of the western malls and the pleasures of bargaining in the eastern bazaars. They are much sought after safe havens from the urban blight, with their well-lit promenades, multi-cuisine food courts, underground parking, and not to forget, decent rest rooms. The rest room in the Spencer Plaza was on my itinerary, so, that went according to the plan. I was supposed to have lunch with a friend at noon in Dakshin. Off to Adayar Sheraton. I loved the food there, and as usual, I overate. I did not forget, however, to use their well appointed toilet before I left. I should be good for another couple of hours.

Should I Call a Nephrologist?

The next item on the itinerary could be tricky. Prior experience had prepared me to expect the unexpected at the Regional Passport Office. Accordingly, I had allowed a generous one hour for an errand that should take only fifteen minutes. I had been asked to arrive at the counter at four, and I did at 3:30. I was supposed to be done by 4:30, and I got it all done by 5:30. That's a good half hour more than what I had planned for. I also had to run up and down the stairs a few times, and that only aggravated my problem. The pain started first in my knees, and then spread quickly to my back. Is there a toilet somewhere here? No, sir, please go to the second floor. No, this one is for the employees only. Sorry, sir, it's closed for the repairs. Ouch, that one was sharp! Uh oh, is it me, or is my kidney failing? Should I call a nephrologist?

Pee-in Clinic

Mansur, hurry, the lab closes in an hour. Damn, it's the peak hour again, and more signals. I was too urbane to shed my inhibitions and ask Mansur to stop in the middle of the M.G. Road. Advertisements for Detrol started to play out in excruciating details inside my tightly shut eyes. Is Detrol for real, or is it a prescription for profit? Will it help if I imagined the gory details of alien creatures tearing out of my guts? Why don't they warn us never to leave home without a pack of Huggies? Mansur, are we there yet?

Taking delivery of the lab report should have been a breeze, but I was bursting. I looked at the sign that said "PATIENTS ONLY" for a couple of minutes that felt like an eternity. Then I almost screamed, "Nurse, I forgot to take the urine test. Here is the fee. Please keep the change." I ran into the toilet, as the nurse called out behind me, " Sir, please take this glass with you."

The Homecoming

Two hours later, I was perched comfortably on my throne, and wondered if the right to to pee with dignity should be included in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Hello, is there any NGO out there to fight for this worthy cause? I would like to volunteer.

  1. This is hilarious, and also good advice. It reminds me of my mom's travel strategy: Pee every time you see a toilet.

  2. hilarious.Yes for women it gets worse.And soemtimes we hesitate to ask people if we may use their toilet.And the only reason I prefer shopping in the huge malls although I hate them is that they have decent toilets.
    This reminded me of greg Corso's "Marriage"?

    "When she introduces me to her parents
    back straightened, hair finally combed, strangled by a tie,
    should I sit knees together on their 3rd degree sofa
    and not ask Where's the bathroom?
    How else to feel other than I am,
    often thinking Flash Gordon soap--
    O how terrible it must be for a young man
    seated before a family and the family thinking
    We never saw him before! He wants our Mary Lou!
    After tea and homemade cookies they ask What do you do for a living?
    Should I tell them? Would they like me then?
    Say All right get married, we're losing a daughter
    but we're gaining a son--
    And should I then ask Where's the bathroom?"

    Actually in bangalore we have paid "nirmala" toilets in many parts - some well maintained and most not so well maintained.Just to see what they are like I tried the one on St.Mark's road and one at the airport - not too bad!


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