Radhika's Diaries

I see humor in the mundane.

Trending – The latest Bollywood release – “Toilet: A Love Story” based on the real life story of a feisty young woman who walked out and refused to go back to her husband’s home in a village in central India, a day or two after the wedding.
Reason – she discovered that her new home lacked that one room reserved for the most exclusively private activity – a toilet! So she raised a stinking storm which raged it’s way into newspapers, from where it was sniffed out and made into a movie.

While for some of us, in our designer closets, fitted with marble walls and the latest gadgets to pamper our bottoms, this could be dismissed as just another strange story from a strange corner of the country, it must have taken the girl a tremendous deal of courage – especially in the face of whole-sale ignorance, faulty and vested interpretations of the scriptures and colossal male arrogance – to refuse to follow the age-old custom of women in villages being forced to relieve themselves in fields and forests before the break of dawn!

Ironically women in traditional patriarchal societies are expected to keep their head, face and figures covered and to stay indoors, but have to venture out into the open for something which requires privacy!

Since the topic has been raised, I decided to go back and check how these issues were handled through the times. Just as the law of Gravity states that what goes up comes down, nature has decried that “what goes in must come out”. It’s inevitable, it’s unavoidable, it’s meant to be – from the slums to the palaces – if you have to go, you have to go! So you need a Go-To place right? I’m in a naughty mood, my plan is to basically upset your bellies from the comfortable state it is in with a few interesting facts about these must-go places.

The ancient Roman and Egyptian Civilizations had large Public Houses for their ‘business’. In fact the Romans were said to be a social lot and their public latrines were designed to encourage flow of conversation. Some Emperors were even known to conduct official proceedings from their royal perch.  Serious business with serious pleasure? 😉 And ahem – they even had a Goddess to preside over the good functioning of the sewage system. That’s how much importance they gave to the issue.

During Victorian times, ‘chamber pots’ were all the craze. Called the Bourdaloue, it was originally designed for women and it was supposedly named after a French Catholic priest Louis Bourdaloue. And why, you may ask, was it so named? Did he invent it? design it? preach it? practice it? None of the above. His sermons were said to be so long that women started bringing along their pots with them, so they could ‘let go’ without having to ‘go out’!

Later, these pots came to be used by women and children in the privacy of their bedrooms, and would then be emptied out late at night or early in the morning. How? Very simple. The contents of the pot would be flung out onto the streets through the     window. The French (always a thoughtful lot) would shout “Guardez l’eau” before flinging it out, which was a warning to passersby below to “mind the water”.

The Scots then borrowed the phrase, and in their unique style changed the way it was said to “Gardy Loo”. Now we’re in familiar waters aren’t we?  Hey Presto guys, that’s where we get our present day ‘Loo”. Now you know!

In the late 1500s along came Sir John Harington, an amateur poet, a witty learned godson of Queen Elizabeth I.  Whatever he might have wanted to be remembered for, intentionally or unintentionally, this knighted courtier’s name came to be etched forever in the History of Toilets, as the inventor of Flush Toilets. He devised and installed one in his home and the Queen was said to be so impressed that she got one set up in her palace too. And that’s how the toilet also came to be known as the john. Well now – weren’t you just dying to know this one!!

You guys still with me? A treasure house of information, aren’t I?

So why are we (or rather, why am I) bringing up delicate private issues in public? For precisely that reason my dears – to make it public. I’m doing my bit to spread the  importance and need of bringing these issues under discussion. By the way,  are you aware that the UN has declared Nov 19 as World Toilet Day ( since 2001) just to raise awareness about the human right to clean water and proper sanitation?  In our own country, the Prime Minister himself has taken it upon itself to stress the necessity and importance of tackling the issue in his National address. And now a mainstream movie (Toilet- Ek Prem Katha), complete with a superstar, song and dance sequences, romantic moonlit nights and the full works, has devoted its entire screen coverage to just this issue. The handsome hero manages to build his monument of love, in the face of stiff opposition, right in his front yard and urges his bride to “skip to my loo, my darling”, and they live happily ever after, thus hopefully setting an example for others.

Meanwhile, getting back to the issue in the pot, when it’s been officially established that an average person spends almost 13 months of his/her life on the ivory throne, and that more people have mobile phones than toilets – well, need we say more on it?

And to top it all – according to statistics, more lives of women and children have been lost while on the job, in forests and fields far from safety – due to germs and diseases caught while there, snake and  scorpion bites, relentless rain and cold, rapes and murders, animal attacks, to list a few, apart from the attack on their respect and dignity. What a struggle for something we in the towns and cities take for granted.

Next time instead of reading the newspaper when in the loo (a highly unhygienic practice, if you ask me), let’s just sit and ponder on all this shall we?

A warning though – Do be alert; do not daydream or doze off on the john. Just FYI – King George II (Great Britain) fell off the toilet. And died.

*Title credit – “Skip to my Lou, my darling” _ a popular American dance song.


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