Day 53: My Autobiography of Pooping 💩
My life through the lens of pooping
Many of my mom’s stories about me as a kid revolve around me pooping in public places at inopportune moments. On the airplane, next to the baby-hating cowboy. During large gatherings, anniversaries, and birthdays, just as the cake was being cut — perhaps seeking to remind everyone that I exist.
I can’t remember exactly how or when I stopped pooping in my pants, nor can I remember whether or not my parents taught me how to use a toilet. If they did teach me, I wonder how long it took; what their strategies were; if I rebelled in the same way I did while in a diaper, pooping whenever and wherever I felt like to maintain my independence.
I do vaguely remember the plastic training toilet that gave me that was about two feet tall-the first foot was the “septic tank” and the other one fight was the back rest. It was essentially a portable outhouse. It was probably even worse than cleaning a diaper since the poo actually had to be picked up and removed.
The next memory I have, beyond the portable outhouse, was the upstairs bathroom at my old house, just down the hall from my room. The bathroom always smelled like incense, whether they were burning or not. And from the window, I had a view of our yard and neighbor’s house; sometimes I could see old, senile Mr. Fitz, who sometimes pretended to smoke his pens. He scared me, but from the second floor bathroom, I felt safe, so I could watch him while relieving myself.
About a year later, when I was 5 or 6, I was at my cousin’s house and 3–4 of us were playing in the woods. All of a sudden, the urge to poo came on really strongly, so I began running.
My cousin asked, “where are you going?”
“Just go in the woods!”
“What? Why? How?”
“Just use leaves!”
I took his advice. Wasn’t so bad. Felt relieving and leaves were more or less as good as low quality toilet paper from the perspective of wiping, while having the added quality of being natural and organic.
The next 15 years were fairly uneventful in terms of my poop life. The main highlights would be the closet toilet at my new house, from which I could watch TV while pooing.
The second was growing comfortable with the idea of pooing next to friends while at boarding school. Turns out, everyone makes those weird noises while pooing and everyone’s poo smells. Once you can simply accept that fact, then pooping with friends is a great, subtle acknowledgement of your closeness and intimacy, along with a great way to pass the time while doing your business.
When I was 21, my poop life changed drastically. I was set to intern in rural West Champaran, Bihar, where there are very few toilets. When my dad found out, he gave me the following orientation and training session:
“Be careful when you squat; don’t come down too quickly or you’ll hurt your knees or back. Fill the bottle or cup with water and pour it onto your left hand. Not flat like this (stiffening his hands and fingers), but cup your hand like this instead (making a mini bowl with his hand and fingers). Once the water is in the valley of your hand, then bring your hand behind your butt and toss the water on your butt (pulling his left hand behind his butt, while squatting, and showing the throwing action).”
He went on to tell me a cautionary tale of the time he was engaged in deep thought while pooing out in a field in a village in Madhya Pradesh, when, all of a sudden, he felt a bristling sensation on his butt. A sneaky pig had crept up on him and began sniffing his butt while he was squatting out there. I told him that I’d be sure to look out for the pigs.
I didn’t encounter any pigs, but my first day was equally mortifying. I was sitting under a thatched roof with open walls to escape the sun. I surveyed the scene from there and saw heavy traffic going and coming from the field; collapsed bottle without the tag, filled with two pumps from the hand pump, and then out towards the bamboo patch, beyond the wheat field.
I’d watched for about an hour now, so I felt like confident enough to go on my own. Actually, that’s a lie. I couldn’t hold it anymore; I was feeling like I might explode. So I grabbed a bottle and jumped to jerk the water pump up and down in hopes that it would fill faster. And then set off on a brisk power walk that quickly turned into an all-out waddle-sprint.
I made it to the bamboo. Not the far bamboo, though. The one before the wheat field. Only about 30–40 feet from where I had been sitting. But I didn’t even notice what was happening in my surroundings — my only focus was on how to release this poison from my body.
So in one swift move, I pulled down my pants, squatted, and pooed all in one flow. I let out an “ahhh…” not of horror, but of relief. But all of a sudden, I look up and see a group of children staring and laughing at me, only about ten feet away. Now I let out another “ahhh…” but this time a shriek, out of utter and complete embarrassment.
I cleaned myself as quickly as possible, pulled my pants back up, and ran back to the sitting area as quickly as possible. I washed my hands and sat down. Mortified.
A year and a half later, I moved back to Bihar again, this time for good. This time, I mainly encountered squat toilets without any running water, which you have to manually flush.
I grew interested in the anthropology of pooping in middle class, rural Kishanganj, Bihar. The first thing I noticed was the use of the word “fresh-wesh.” For those who don’t know Hindi, when you combine a word with the same word but with w at the beginning — like coffee-woffee — then it means basically whatever word you are using plus “and stuff” / “or something” — i.e., do you want to drink coffee or something?
Somehow the word fresh entered the Hindi language used in rural Bihar and came to mainly mean pooping. Not completely pooping, but fresh-wesh 90% means pooping, with the other 10% a cherry on top, potentially referring to face washing or bathing.
So in the mornings, the first commonly asked question is, “fresh-wesh ho gaya hai?” — have you done fresh-wesh?? I thought it was euphemistic at first — a way of addressing poo without realy addressing it. Until I visited a friend’s relative’s house and he asked me 4–5 times about whether or not I did or wanted to do fresh-wesh, eventually even filling a bucket for me that he brought to the toilet. And later pouring water on my hands as I soaped them.
It wasn’t some sick colonial hangover either due to the fact that I look white, because I saw him do the same for my friend as well. It’s because the spirit of “athithi devo bhava” — the idea that guest is great like god. And hosts tend to take a special interest in the bowel movements of their guests.
Maybe for practical reasons or due to work schedules and a lack of toilets, fresh-wesh is a once-in-a-day kind of thing where I am in Bihar now, which seems to be another reason why it seems to acquire such importance — both physiologically and socially. So every morning, there’s a rush to the toilets, which are occupied nonstop for 1–1.5 hours. And while waiting and after finishing, there are several inquiries of whether or not you are yet to do fresh-wesh.
One question I’ve always struggled with in squat toilets is what to do with my clothes: what to wear and what to do with what you’re wearing? The floors in the bathroom are generally quite wet with water that spilled from the cup, so if your clothes come down to your ankles, then they also get wet. Also, squatting with paints at your ankles is shackling, as it restricts your ability to move.
I’ve asked friends what their strategy is and I’ve heard different ones. Some people remove all of their clothes and hang them on the hooks in the bathroom (if they are there). Others simply just deal with the pants at the ankle. And one technique, which I think I may have pioneered, at least amongst our organization, is the half removal; basically you remove the pants on one side and use your other leg as a clothing hanger for the pants. This solves the problem of restriction and you can also mainly avoid getting the pants wet.
Now-a-days when I visit the cities after a longish gap, western toilets feel a bit strange; I imagine all the water that’s wasted and all the trees cut down for the toilet paper. I also realize how poorly designed the toilet seems to be in terms of maximizing bowel movements. But then I adjust again after a day or two.
And then I’m back in the village. And squat toilets feel so much more taxing on the body. The relaxation aspect completely slips away from the toilet. And, due to electricity cuts and no windows, it’s often completely dark and damp as well. I wonder how my elder family members will do if they’re forced to come here. But then it’s normal again after a day.
It’s been a long journey in terms of pooping. There are probably still other kinds of toilets that I’m yet to discover and that will offer a new experience. But I feel quite comfortable that I can be like a pooping chameleon, adapting my colors and ways to the pooping infrastructure (or lack thereof) available.