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Archiver > INDIA > 1999-12 > 0945923651

From: Ronald <>
Subject: An interesting observation by Peter Colaco, Bangalore
Date: Thu, 23 Dec 1999 10:04:11 +0530

The ebb & flow of the chamber pot, Now&then
By: Peter Colaco.

On re-reading my small collection of literature on Bangalore, I find a
notable omission — the
traditional Bangalore bathroom. It wasn’t a glamouroom (as modern
advertising likes to call
them), but it had its charms. The size of a modern bedroom, it was
furnished with
a primitive wash basin and a water drum.
The centre-piece was the commode, a wooden throne with a hole in the
middle, containing the
removable chamber pot. Its hinged lid could be closed to conceal its
contents; so it was also
known, rather coarsely, as a thunder box. High on the wall was a
white enamelled cylinder,
fitted with a tube and a plastic nozzle — the enema can (see
illustration). In the days before
laxatives and suppositories, enemas facilitated the bowel movements
of old people, who might nowadays
be called excretorily challenged. Modesty forbids that I go into
Bathrooms were damp and cold, but in summer they were quite comfortable
for people given to
reading in the loo. The one hitch was the lack of pipes and flushing
toilets. They smelt funny. And
who was to clean the mess?
Fortunately society in its wisdom had ordained a tribe of people
called lacchas/lacchis (a term
probably banned by law today) or, less offensively, scavengers. It
was their inherited task,
generation after generation, to clean up the mess their superiors
left behind. Ladies and gentleman
have always been bashful about acknowledging their personal wastes. So
the scavengers were
not allowed to prowl the streets by day.
Aileen D’Vaz, an old Bangalorean, can vividly remember them coming
with their lanterns and
cart after dark. My Uncle Alphy remembers them coming at 5 am,
before dawn. Both agree that
they only came at night, so the foul mess they removed was
euphemistically known as night-soil.
Aileen also recalls that commodes were terrible, insanitary and
smelly, particularly if you were
not the first to go — a rare privilege in the large families of
In the big bungalows that Aileen and Uncle Alph were
talking about, night soil could be stored
far from the house, till the cleaners arrived. But
in the smaller houses, the problem was solved by
the Conservancy Lane, a kind of secret path between
the back-walls of parallel streets, with
back-doors opening on it. The lanes were a
half-world through which the
scavengers plied their inauspicious trade, invisible to the pure and
sensitive eyes of the people who
generated their business.
Fortunately, the whole system was gradually
abolished. Untouchability was declared
unspeakable — a humiliating, inhuman system like
slavery and apartheid.
Mahatma Gandhi is generally credited with the social
revolution which changed things. But other
gestures of kindness and acts of bravery also went
into the “revolution of the scavengers.”
I personally know of two unsung revolutionaries — my
grandmother, Rose and an anonymous
lady who was never referred to as anything but
lacchi (she worked for a Mrs M. somewhere in
the cantonment). Mrs M. was justly infamous in
her neighbourhood for being a cantankerous and nit-picking old
so-and-so. She trusted nobody. She followed the servant around nagging
and fault-finding.
One day, the anger of generations of pent-up
oppression (not to mention the impossibility of Mrs
M.’s behaviour) exploded inside lacchi. She took the
chamber pot, dumped its contents over her
oppressor’s head and walked out of the house. Her
moment of rebellion should be
commemorated by a bronze statue, or a Soviet-type
heroic frieze in a prominent place.
Granny Rose was more gentle in her rebellion. She
had a faithful old lacchi of decades. Even
when the system changed, lacchi would sit at
Granny’s feet, to share her joys and her woes.
When her son got married (complete with suit, tie
and garland) Granny invited the couple and
lacchi for lunch.
Lunch was laid on the big table (which could seat
24, with portraits of saints and ancestors
looking down from the high walls). Granny sat in her
usual place at the head, the three guests of
honour to her right and left, family lower
down.(Grandpa, by this time, was not alive.)
Not unexpectedly, some of the family protested
against sitting at the table with a scavenger.
Granny was unfazed: “If you don’t want to sit with
my guests, eat in the kitchen or the
Practical factors also contributed to the changing
order. Toilets with sanitary pipes and “septic
tanks” signalled liberation from one of humanity’s
most nauseating tasks. Soak pits gave way to
WCs (water-closets) with underground sewage lines —
well, more or less underground.
The conservancy lanes remain like vestigial organs
and no one quite knows what to do with
them. They are part of the underworld, serving
nefarious purposes. They should be made safe.
Urchins prowl them to steal clothes from backyards,
with assured safe retreat. Urban monkeys
use them to organise raids on fruit trees. After
dusk they serve as bowers or brothels, as the case
may be, for the adjacent slum dwellers. (New
extensions like Jayanagar, Indiranagar and
Koramangala don’t have conservancy lanes. Not that they are
biologically different from
people in the “towns,” just that they were built after the coming
of modern sewage systems.)
In the encroach-and-regularise culture of modern
Bangalore house-builders, conservancy lanes
have become a tempting piece of no-man’s real
estate. But encroaching on the conservancy
lanes is a hazardous business, they often have the
main sewage pipes running beneath them.
If those get punctured or blocked, we will be
literally neck deep in sh-t, as the saying goes. And
there are no longer anointed classes to clean up our
messes for us.

Taken from an article appearing in the Times Of India.

With the smile on your face, I take this opportunity to wish you all a
Merry Christmas, and a Joyful New Year 2000
I have brought out oanew page and you better watch
it as it will be updated almost everyday with something new, now that I
am learning DHTML!!
Ronnie and Family
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