Openly Pooping in India
With the Indian Government openly going overdrive in making India open-defecation free, building toilets and upping the ante on cleanliness and sanitation with its ‘Swachh Bharat’ clean-India mission, my thoughts ‘went down’ in place and time, to delve in to my own, noisome, pooping history: re-live the relieving in the open!
I was born in the 1960’s in South India, during a period when electricity was just beginning to line-in into the small Towns but staying absolutely fused-out of the Villages; and toilets/rest-rooms/bath rooms were yet to be understood, and acquire meaning and quiet dignity. We were a poor ‘rising-up’ farming family and did our best to fertilize our fields with the worst that we could not hold within us — after digesting the best food of our times! I had never seen a toilet until I climbed the nearby Shevaroy Hills Station, Yercaud, to live as a stay-in guest with an Anglo-Indian family — to grow up sufficiently, to join Boarding School. That was at the tender age of three. It took me a while to find my way in the bath-room, beginning with the squatting style, and later graduating to the Western sitting position. I must say that I first squatted on the seat of the Western Closet before realizing that I have a right to indeed sit on the cold seat throne!
On returning from Boarding School, on the first School-end holidays I found that my family had relocated to an interior Village, near a forest–without even a volt of electricity, and with lots of earth & rock to sit upon, without charges. The toilet now looked farther than ever before, given the scenario of abundant bushy spaces around us, and the complete indifference to the farming community about defecating in the open. Every year, it was a nightmare when I came Home; to rush to the fields many times a day to do the ‘ones & two’s’ and play hide and seek with shrubs and bushes. The scariness level of the nightmares depended on the crop at that time of the year: if it was tapioca it was a pleasant shady sit-out; if it was sugarcane, I had to hunt for space to squeeze in and squat without being bruised by the sword-like sugarcane leaves. During these times I got the closest to Nature, that I possibly could, and became friends with armies of ants, webs of spiders, leaves of caterpillars, lengths of centipedes and millipedes, and fangs of snakes, tails of rats, and a stings of bees and wasps! On one of those stomach crazy rumblings, I had rushed to the nearest field — damn, it was sugarcane — and almost squatted on a coiled afternoon-nap taking snake, when the great hiss stopped the poop in its tracks, actually went back-in to exit again — hissing with smelly disgust, another time!
Over a period of twelve long years nothing much changed on the open poop front at Home, but it got a lot more crowded and competitive. Some-times, I found a ‘poop-mate’ (a Labourer’s son about my age) and both of us used to squat back-to-back and talk about Tamils songs and films. When it was done, my poop-mate would often use the nearest rock as a toilet paper — a few quick crafty rubbing strokes did the job — while I used to get up, pull-up my shorts (just enough to cover the bare essentials) and walk bow-legged to the water tank area to find a tin-mug and a secluded spot to cleanup! Meanwhile, I left Boarding School went through Engineering College and got a job in the Power Sector further South of where I was born: still not toilets at Home, though by this time I had become skilled in using toilet-paper. My many pleas and cries always fell on ceramic deaf ears! Who would give-up the fresh vibrant landscape of the open for a walled toilet, argued my family! The nearest we got to a toilet was a four-walled open-to-atmosphere bathing-only room, with a firm door, which also served as a wash-spot after the adventures in the open. I heard tales of a cousin of mine joyfully parking himself atop the ‘bathroom’ wall, refusing to vacate even when the women-of-the-house (Moms & Aunts) came over for a bath! He had to be pulled down in a bundle of kicks and punches. Those were the mud-walled roof thatched house days, when concrete structures were more than a peep away. Most men wore lungi’s or dhotis, and the women, saris, which gave absolute freedom to squat just about anywhere, maybe lift a leg and do it doggy style!
Then suddenly, as if someone understood my anguish and heard my cries, toilets started popping up in the neighbourhood — but outside the House and in the typical Indian squatting style, without a flush; but with a tap, a bucket and a mug (The Indian Railways had them chained to the water pipes). But, it never got built outside mine…I still had to find space (sometimes invent) in the open.
Years rolled by, and it was time to find a bride to share open spaces of the mind & body and get close. I demanded that we build a modern house with inside Toilets — just like the West. I got a plan made and ensured it was built exactly that way! Wow, that was in the year 1990! But even then it wasn’t without a fight — my Dad questioning the large room size and why I required a wash-basin inside the Toilet (He wanted to save on the fittings!) and I had to do a lot explanation about washing hands & hygiene, to get one; but I never told him I intended to install a bath tub, one day!
Over the years, when I travelled all over India and to a few places abroad, I learnt the pleasure of closed defecation and struggled to understand why such a convenience (and a ‘pleasure’) took so much time to invade India.
I now live in the small South Indian City of Salem and it is not uncommon to see many roads lined with blind-snakes (we used to call poop that, while in School) and during my morning walks I often run into people squatting or peeing gleefully, just about anywhere they could find a spot; and during those rides to home, while passing through a small Village you could see man, woman & child, torch or lantern-in-hand (a night) squatting on the road-sides in the light of my car head-lights. I shamefully dip them and cover up! Tomorrow is always open!