A Developing Turdistan?

May 05, 2010

While book-reviews are pretty common, article-reviews are not – possibly because in an era of sound bytes, multitasking and reduced attention spans, reading a book requires a considerable investment of time, money and attention. Book-reviews come to the rescue.

I can skim through a book-review in a couple of minutes and pointlessly try to impress my Desicritics friends who don’t give a shit, about how well read I am. If the interest is there, one would think that reading an article does not require that much time and investment. However, as life speeds up further I believe that this may no longer be true. So I have taken it upon myself to write “article reviews” for those who are busier than I am.

Malise Ruthven, a well known writer on fundamentalism, has a short snappy piece titled “Excremental India” in last week’s New York Review of Books. He raises an issue that has baffled many people and not just non-Indians visiting the country for the very first time.

India is possibly the only country in the world where humans bare their bums in reasonably full public view and shit? Well, male humans. Women have to wait until it either gets dark or rush to do their business before dawn. And the women have to go in groups, to places where there are shrubs and bushes to provide some cover. They are susceptible to snake-bites and scorpion stings. If they miss the limited time they have to relieve themselves, they have to wait for the next time-cycle. Some miss the cycle a few times and suffer from urinary and bowel disorders.

One might assume that this situation prevails only in the rural areas. Not so. On the outskirts of most urban centres particularly the railway lines, one can see bare bums and squirts. Now that a lot of Commonwealth Games driven construction is underway in Delhi, the spaces between overhead bridges have re-emerged as open-air toilets.

Ruthven quotes a UN estimate that in India, 638 million people or about 55 percent (all estimates are naturally just estimates) shit out doors. A number of organizations such as the Agha Khan Foundation and the Ratan Tata Trust, in association with other NGO’s and agencies have been active for some time in trying to deal with the issue. In many areas of the city one can now have access to reasonably clean toilets for a very small fee. But when one is dealing with an issue that affects hundreds of millions of people, it seems like the proverbial dunghill battle.

Ruthven is of course not the first to write about it. Rohinton Mistry in one of his novels has a very graphic take on fresh turds lying besides the railway tracks – its creator presumably fled due to an approaching train. It would be all too easy to dismiss Ruthven as yet another of those colonial types, and British to boot, who are intent on washing our shitty laundry on the global public stage.

And I have no doubt that some will argue exactly that. Sumanth will no doubt manage to spin this to “prove” that, their urinary tract and bowel disorders notwithstanding, women are still getting a better deal at the expense of men. But I hope to get some non-banal responses to a decidedly revolting and stinky issue that has baffled me since I was a kid.

Commonsense is in the business of peddling commonsense or so he believes, since others think of his wares as patent nonsense or even worse.
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