Perhaps the concept of April fool’s did not quite exist when T.S.Eliot wrote “April is the cruelest month” in his poem The Wasteland, but you have to admit that the man was a visionary. The cruel heat of April in this tropical country is not the only thing that makes that prophecy a truth. The first day of April itself makes people a little skeptical of the whole month, thanks to the whole play-a-prank thing.
In the good ol’ days, it was all about friends pranking each other with harmless “there’s a cockroach on your head” or maybe a fart bag under the sofa but now it has gone commercial. Thanks to companies trying to build a relevant image among its millennial and gen z consumer base, April fool’s is now a marketing strategy. Several brands have jumped onto this bandwagon and the Bangalore based Cab Service Company Ola is no exception.
Ola has pranked its users in the past couple of years as well- once by announcing Ola News Network and another time “introducing” Wheels, a service to take you from your room to your kitchen. This year, when Ola was relentlessly advertising their “Ola Restrooms; a place to go for the generation that’s on the go”, some people on social media did figure out that it was an elaborate set up for their traditional April Fool’s, while some users were genuinely concerned.
And if this is your idea of an april fool gag, trying to be cool like google, the joke is actually on you. A cruel irony if you will. Your drivers sleep in their cars, pee on the roadside, in bottles. And you want to privatize toilet infrastructure. https://t.co/nFWI6oQxts
— The Soya Factor (@tetisheri) March 31, 2019
But this year’s prank was a little different and so was the reaction towards it. See, in a country like India where people, especially women are still subjected to several perils of open defecation, the toilet is a touchy subject (so much so that there is a whole film named Toilet in Bollywood). Soon enough, the “prank” drew in some pretty intense criticism across Twitter, where some users were enraged about how an issue as sensitive as this should not have been made into a joke. Some people were also pissed by the fact that Ola chose to spend all this money on a PR campaign rather than fixing its services. But redemption followed quite closely after.
Thank you for laughing with us. While #OlaRestrooms are not here yet, we can do our bit to facilitate better sanitation for thousands. Starting 2nd April you can opt to donate ₹1/ride to https://t.co/WSZtcQyo34 & help them build toilets across India https://t.co/P8a2MHS9uy pic.twitter.com/ZmzteQK7ny
— Ola (@Olacabs) April 1, 2019
Ola clarified how this whole campaign was to draw attention to the issue itself and also to initiate actions towards changing the current poor sanitary conditions of most of India. They announced that they have partnered with Gramalaya, an organization dedicated to providing better sanitation in rural India and Ola users can contribute Re.1 per ride to this organization, starting from April 2.
According to a report by WaterAid, nearly 732 million people in India still defecate openly, over 355 million women and girls are compelled to wait in long queues to access a proper toilet every day. This initiative, that started out as a joke to get people engaged, is one of the right ways in which youth run corporate sectors today are fixing the problems of this country, that really is the job of the government. So, at the end of the day, if there is an elaborate prank being played, then it is probably just by our elected Government, on a population of 1.2 billion people.