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One day at a Toilet Museum

Updated on: 20 February,2011 07:29 AM IST  | 
Kumar Saurav |

A museum in Delhi chronicles the evolution of toilets, and the man behind it has been approached by the US army to build one-of-a-kind loos in Afghanistan

One day at a Toilet Museum

A museum in Delhi chronicles the evolution of toilets, and the man behind it has been approached by the US army to build one-of-a-kind loos in Afghanistan

This is a story from the Renaissance. A man told his wife, "My dear, I love you as equally as I love a good excretion of waste in my stomach."

Furious, she was whisked away for a horse ride. The husband made her ride without a loo break till she could no longer bear 'it'. "Forgive me for ever doubting your affection for me. I promise that I'll love you in the same way as you love me," she said.

This is an anecdote straight from the halls of the Museum of Toilets in Dwarka, New Delhi. While some medicos and students who had dropped by for a visit from the US and Australia were still having a good laugh, museum in-charge Bageshwar Jha, pointed to another sign that read, "Farting was allowed by medicos during the Renaissance."

The Museum is the brainchild of Bindheshwar Pathak, the man who continues to lead the sanitary revolution across the world for 40 years. Showcasing the history of toilets as found in some of the oldest civilisation like Mohenjo Daro and Harappa, weird sanitary practices, models of lavatories and latest innovations, it's worth a visit if you happen to be in the capital.

"The remains of restrooms that have been unearthed during excavations indicate that toilets used then were far more advanced than those we use today. Flushes were used as far back as 4,500 years ago. The Dholavira province in Harappan was known for its ingenious sanitation and water conservation techniques," says Jha, who is always ready to be roped in for a chat about sanitary practices and how they amplified the effect of the caste system in India.

"The untouchables who cleaned toilets were not supposed to be seen, met or interacted with. That's the reason why toilets were built outside the home. 'Scavengers would arrive to clean them before sunset so that no one would see them. To make their presence known to the family, they'd to tie a bell around their necks. It's when Gandhiji pointed out that unless they didn't stop the practice of cleaning toilets manually, discrimination wouldn't fade, the role of flush tanks was identified."u00a0

Pathak was the one to launch Sulabh International in the late 1960s. Of the belief that the plight of scavengers could be alleviated if they were made self-reliant, could perform religious rituals that upper castes were allowed to and integrated into the social structure, he says, "From babus to untouchables, no one likes to hear the word 'toilet'. When I approached people to work for me for a stipend, they wouldn't agree.

When I took a group of scavengers to hotel Maurya, the manager was furious. When I insisted that he allow them to dine, he said he feared that 'they would break the plates'," says the native of Vaishali district in Bihar whose NGO Sulabh International has been invited to construct low-cost toilet complexes for the American army in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

The army wants to adopt the toilet technology developed by Sulabh that uses biogas digester application, which converts human excreta into biogas that can be used for lighting or cooking purposes.

"They were impressed with our establishments in Kabul where temperatures drop to minus 32. At this temperature, the toilets installed by other organisations failed. People were ready to pay Rs 30 for one-time use. The weather in Kandahar is the same as Kabul."

The museum is not large, and a two-hour tour reveals facts, photographs, toilet etiquette, sanitary-related laws, privies, chamber pots, and toilet furniture, some dating back to 2500 BC. Information is sourced from various embassies and high commissions for the museum that is usually frequented by foreign visitors researching the evolution of hygiene.
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