Saturday, April 19, 2008

Shit everywhere…

Nothing much to write about today, except this piece, which details the daily gauntlet I run to get to the office. It’s a mad scramble, as you know. Today is a typical day in my life, full of the irritating uncertainty of living in a big city. There aren’t any rickshaws to take me to the railway station at Belapur, and I wring my hands, and then call my son and ask him to drop me to the station on his Hero Honda CBZ, which he does. As I ride I wonder how nice it would be to be dropped everyday, but sonny is sleeping when I leave and I don’t want to disturb him.

At the station, as I enter it huffing, the train is just slithering away, the last few compartments still temptingly on the platform. A vain thought, I run after it, knowing fully well that it’s no use, and the train just slides away smooth as an eel, unattainable. Damn! Then there’s the wait for the next train, which arrives, and I jump in even before it stops. It’s dangerous, I know, but I need to sit down in that damn thing, or I will be standing till Andheri. And, lo and behold, the seats are all taken. Like a damn fool I stand while my poker-faced audience (yes they all look so, so blank) look at me and sneer at my discomfort. Drat!

Then a guy gets up and offers another guy a seat. What the heck? What did I do not to deserve that seat? Then I fish out Indra Sinha’s “Animal’s People" and begin to read. It’s a good book and I am lost in its beautiful prose, the cynical argot of Animal, the boy-man who is full of erotic love for Nisha, and I chuckle, I smile, and I read on. (Do buy this book and read, I assure you, word of honour, etc. you will never regret it). But then my smile turns to grimace.

The reason is, I feel a terrible urge to urinate. It’s terrible and it’s because of some medication that I am taking. I squirm in my seat. Andheri is half an hour away, and I try to read deeply, with a lot of involvement to avoid my bladders bursting.

Finally the train arrives at Andheri, I make a beeline for the toilet on platform one and see that a queue has already formed, and it isn’t moving forward. The toilet stinks, there’s water on the floor, the cobwebs hang from the ceiling, there are shabbily stuck posters everywhere (learn fast, fast English in one month, Rs 1000 only et al), and still the line isn’t moving.

I hold some more, shifting uncomfortably. And then, I am inside and I see one of the receptacles (what else do you call them?) empty. I rush to it. The man beside me stops me. Reason? Ahhhhh! There’s a pile of shit lying on it. I shout to the red-shirted attendant, a tall, gangling guy who is joking about it.

“कोई रात को किया होगा. कण्ट्रोल कर नही पाया, लिघ्त भी नही थे, थो बस कर दीया.”

Somebody must have done it in the night. Couldn’t control, and there were no lights. I think of Annie Zaidi’s post:

“My foot squelched and sank into something soft. It took a couple of seconds to register what the mess was - it was about two inches of shit. Human shit all over the floor.”

Truly a very disconcerting, and humiliating experience. Then I think of VS Naipaul who wrote:

“Indians shit everywhere.”

I don’t blame him, he is right, I mean, Naipaul. There is a toilet a few feet away from the urinal, and all that the miscreant had to do was hold on a little longer, walk those two steps, and sit inside the toilet. He was a few feet away from the toilet (and decency, I suppose) and still he shat on the steps of the urinal. Could you believe that? We still haven’t made the switch from village to the city, from crudeness to decency and for some people the rationale is even one of prestige:

“तुम्हारा बाप का क्या जाता है?”

What goes of your father?


Rajiv said...

Hi john, I was born in Ghatkopar, spent 10 years in Kalanagar, and 6 years in Veeradesai road. I always found Andheri station one of the cleanest. how times change.

I disagree with you on one point. You say quite in Naipaulian speak "We still haven’t made the switch from village to the city, from crudeness to decency and for some people the rationale is even one of prestige"
MY own experience is very different, infact its just the opposite of it.
If you have been to any village in Kerala (i have) In UP, In Bihar, In Maharashtra (22 km from Sholapur), I can assure you that a very different culture prevails than this typical village crudeness and indecency you project as opposed to the zivilizing gist of the cities in matter related to toilet habit.

It is true that people go to the field, but there are some hard and civilized rules that any villager, who ever he may be cannot ever violate even in his wildest dreams.
Take some for example, you cannot shit anywhere but only at the outer edge, you cannot piss or shit under the shade of a tree or piss on its bark, you cannot shit besides the river, nor piss in its stream...worse, you cannot piss standing with your thing in your hands. you are expected to sit and do it without touch.

Now my own experience is just the opposite of yours. In my experience it is the city dwellers who have thrown away the self mindful mores/the zivilizing gist, one reason being that it doesn't directly concerns the individual, Thumhara baap ka kya you know after all isn't this the job of the municipality, the other being secularization of the subjectivity by the prograssive dissolution of the native regulatory mores.

A few years back we were shooting in a village 35 km from Lucknow, My whole team was from Bombay. On the third day of the shoot I was approached by the village head(who a day before was very friendly)asking me to wrap everything and leave.
His main complain was that our people were defiling the sanctity of the village, these boys were sitting on the top of the stream (a small passage way not more then 10 inches wide which carries the water from the tube well to the field and the cowshed.
Some had pissed on the Bark of the tree where people come to rest and where children play in the evening.

I seriously doubt you can say “Thumhara baap ka kya jata hai?” in a village when you are caught pissing on trees or shitting near streams and rivers, or field which is being ploughed.
You would be harshly reminded exactly about "Kya jata hai"
I think this is a typical Indian mega city phenomenon bursting on their very seams, where the only mantra and also the only excuse for some one to be in the first place happens to be money.
As they say, it is a doggy dog life in the city.

John said...

Hi Rajiv,

Rajiv I didn't know you were a Ghatkopar boy. I was raised in Chembur, and my college was in Ghatkopar - Somaiya.

Thanks for the lengthy feedback, I appreciate it very much. A lot of food for thought. Rajiv, you have given me a lot of stuff for thought and am grateful.

Yes, I would tend to agree that it is a matter of how dehumansing our cities are that people tend to defecate everywhere. I think it shows the sickness of the people who are doing it. Also it is one of apathy from the authorities as they don't bother to clean these public facilities though there was an attendant where I went and and he was paid a salary.

What are the sanitary inspectors and the sanitation employees for? They take huge salaries (around 15,000 to 20,000) from the corproation and give the jobs to some guy desperate for a job and make him do the job for 3000 rupees a month. Who bothered to check? Anyone? No, because the people above them are also corrupt.

Anyway, thanks for the feedback, much appreciated.

best wishes,