Of Things Big and Small

A tribute to the toilet

I watched Asia Food Channel (Or is it Asian Food Channel?) featuring a speciality restaurant in Taiwan. This is no ordinary eat joint. It is a restaurant which reminds you of what becomes of all the food we eat... The restaurant has chairs and tables shaped like toilets. The food is served in miniature toilets... Drinks are served in specimen jars. The consistency, appearance and the arrangement of the served food also resemble the intestinal outputs. In this toilet-like ambience, people eat food relishing the taste, tickled by the humour of such an idea.

Hold on, please don’t run to the loo!

Don’t you know it is only true,

That the fate of all food is to become poo!

The toilet throne occupies an important position in all our lives. There are vAstu-based locations for constructing the latrines, lavatories and the toilets. Man, since his arrival, has always responded to the calls of nature in the botanical environs. A secluded, special space for this important act of exhausting was invented rather late in the human evolution. The origins of the toilet are rather interesting. The earliest flushing toilets are traced to almost 4,000 years ago in the Indus Valley! (No bull****! This is an archaeological fact).

But through the ages, there appears to have been no significant efforts in toilet building. The commoners and peasants, of course, would have fertilised the open spaces and the fields. How did the kings, queens and the nobles dispose their daily digestions?

History shows that acts of dispensing were carried out indoors in pots and pans and the disposal method was to open the window and throw the contents out! This was very much the reality in the cold European regions. Who would want to walk out in the cold to cast away the refuse? Who would want a freezing bottom with cold water? And so the paper cleaning also must have evolved from these cold regions.

The forerunner to the modern flushing toilet was born during the Elizabethan times, but the Queen herself did not prefer the seated, flushable, closet arrangement. The design of the flushing lavatory did not catch the fancy of the public. Down till the 19th century, in Europe, people were still purging poo in pails and buckets. In a later development, sheds between homes with wooden benches came to be a common arrangement which brought these inevitable acts out of people’s homes and window disposal methods decreased.

In many Asiatic towns, space between rows of houses (backyards) was created to facilitate disposals and this can be found in many Indian countrysides even today. Apart from keeping the excreta disposal outside the home, the Asian habits included use of water, emphasising better hygiene. Toilet areas were constructed far away from dwellings with disposal pits and the scavenging pig population too flourished.

It was during the post-industrial revolution period that changes were brought in housing and town development and then toilet designs began to evolve. From water flushing cistern types to vacuum designs for aircraft flooded the markets. From toilets for anti-gravity ambiences in spacecrafts to simple hole-in-the-bench disposers, today there is a galaxy of sanitaryware in the market. Bidet bowls, colourful designer closets and exquisite boudoir designs are in store to enhance the joy and pleasures of purging and cleansing. The Victorian designer toilets are considered to be a status symbol amongst the rich and the stinking rich. There are toilets with soft flushes and there are sudden gushers. There are water savers with dual rate options. There are even stand and spurt, non-drip, funnel designs for the fairer sex to perform on a par with the male (camping conveniences).

In the evolution, the Anglo-Indian version (toilet with wings on which one can squat or sit) did not gain popularity beyond the Asian public conveniences. This East-meets-West design has not gone well with the market. While the Easterners on haunches claim squatting to be the better orientation for a choke free intestinal traffic, the Westerners prefer the seated comfort. Anyway, who would want to sit on a rippled porcelain design where someone else had placed their feet?

But the techno-toilet trophy definitely goes to Japan. The sleekness and sensuous designs apart, toilets employ advanced technology, enhancing comfort. There are toilets with seats which rise automatically, toilets with no-hand warm water squirting faucets, deodorizers and with fake flush soundings to camouflage the sonorous air releases and splashes. Innovative portable toilets are around the corner. Literally so, these toilets can be fitted in busy street junctions to help the public in urgent need for bladder and bowel releases.

Of the dynamic toilets (toilets on the move) two require mention: The (in)convenient toilets on aero planes (toilets in air) still perplex many on what to do and how to do and constipate many more in the claustrophobic cabins. The next are the toilets-on-rails of the Indian Railways. You rock and roll and do the balancing acts of dropping-it-right and washing (if the water is available).

But our Bharat has showcased the evolution of the toilet in New Delhi: Visit The Sulabh Toilet Museum where you can admire an array of commode collection. But our country does not need a Toilet Temple but many toilet trenches.

You look at any tourist blogs... flip through any India Tourism promo article... India fares low on toilet facilities. I happened to read an article on Agra, written in a take-away airline magazine. The writer factually warns the tourists of deplorable toilet conditions.

When you travel in China, they advise you to carry umbrellas. You will find toilets but with no doors... So you open the umbrella, squat and sing... But when you travel in India, you blend with the nature... you free yourself... you relieve yourself in the plains and the hills...

V.S. Naipaul might not be exaggerating in his writings - ‘Indians defecate everywhere. They defecate, mostly, beside the railway tracks. But they also defecate on the beaches; they defecate on the hills; they defecate on the river banks; they defecate on the streets; they never look for cover...’

November 19th has been declared as World Toilet Day which just passed by. But spare a moment for the toilet-less toilers of India…

Think of all those who cannot save the blushes. Think of all those who bare their bottoms in the bushes. Keep our public toilets clean and help build more. Overcoming this Common Health Shame is going to be tougher than hosting the Commonwealth Games.

Nov 22, 2010
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Rajoo Balaji

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