It was amazing, the silence that greeted us when we returned to Leh from Nubra Valley. We had heard from drivers passing the other way that there had been some sort of disaster in Leh the previous night and that a hundred people had died. There was absolutely no traffic coming from the other side, and the heavy rain didn’t help; not least those of our group who were on the bike (I had finished my turn on the bike a while earlier; more on that in another post).
The only sign of activity on the way was the Rimpoche’s procession. Stanzin Nawang Jigmed Wangchuk is 5 years old and is believed to be the reincarnation of former Ladakh MP Bakula Rimpoche He was at Sumur monastery (in Nubra Valley) and on that day he was on his way to Leh.
The previous day, our driver had informed us to get up early so that we could go to Sumur in time to see the festivities there, in honour of the departing Rimpoche. Unfortunately, late night drinkage meant by the time we reached Sumur the procession had long passed. There was little sign of their having been any celebration by the time we got there.
Coming back, as we descended into Leh valley from Khardung La (supposed to be the highest motorable pass in the world) it looked the same. From on top of the hills, it looked pretty much the same as it did when we left for Nubra the previous day. Except for the lack of traffic in the opposite direction, nothing was different. And the crowd we saw at the Rimpoche’s procession (it was some distance off the main road) only reinforced the sense of normalcy.
Of course, we knew in our heads that things were far from normal. Having gotten back into the Airtel network we had called our families and figured what had happened. Our driver Jugnes had got a call from a relative saying the authorities had requested his village to be evacuated as it was supposed to be in a dangerous low-lying area. We had ourselves been caught in the rain and seen very few army men at Khardung La. All I’m saying is that by the look of things nothing at all looked amiss.
And then when we entered town (and got past another crowd of people waiting for the Rimpoche) it hit us. Not a soul on the streets. Not a single shop open. No one picking up as we called the travel agent’s office. Us not sure if we had a reservation at the hotel where we’d stayed two nights prior before embarking for Nubra (it turned out we did have a reservation; and the kindly hotel staff conjured up some sort of a sandwich for our lunch from whatever supplies they had). It was surreal. And scary. We thought after a couple of hours of rest we should go check out the affected areas to see what has happened. But before that could happen, we realized we ourselves weren’t out of danger.
Ok so this took a real long time coming. It might have been up to five years since I first thought of this post, but so far have never gotten down to writing it. The normal disgust warnings apply. So if you are either eating or have just eaten or feel remotely like throwing up, I request you to read no further. In this post, I want to talk about the culture of shitting (yeah I’ll use the shit word. Direct and disgusting it is) in India and effects of that on current culture and morality.
Before you read further, I would urge you to read about the Aryan Code of Toilets (1500 BC). Thanks to Amit Varma for the pointer. Quoting:
Before going for defecation it was prescribed that the sacred thread should be rolled to a smaller size and be put on the right ear.
The head was to be covered with a cloth. In the absence of cloth, the sacred thread was to be brought over the head and was to be hung on the left ear.
Then while observing silence and facing north in the day and south in the night one could defecate.
So one of my questions is now answered of course. I hope you read the article, it explains a lot more. So from this article it is clear that according to the great Indian tradition, shitting is a ritual no less. And though this document doesn’t mention it, it is generally understood that you shit once, early in the morning after you wake up. Shitting more often or at irregular times is a sign of illness or indiscipline.
My hypothesis is that it is because of this “custom” or “cultural aspect” that we don’t have good public loos in India. Since shitting at irregular times is looked down upon, it wasn’t considered a good idea to encourage this “indisciplined” practice by providing good public loos. Ok it may not have been on purpose but since shitting at non-regular times (not early in the morning) wasn’t a done thing no one really talked about it and the results (abysmal public toilet infrastructure) are here to stay. It is only in modern offices where indisciplined foreignerrs visit regularly that you have good public loos!
Then, in India, there was a major lag between urbanization and development of public sewerage system because of which loos had to be placed away from the rest of the house. Soon this became a practice, and this further discouraged people from “going” at irregular times. And the delay in arrival of water closets and public sewerage kept the class of people called “night soil collectors” in business much longer than it needed to and this prolonged the incidence of untouchability (this is supposed to have been beautifully captured in Mulk Raj Anand’s The Untouchable).
The other impact of shitting being a ritual is that it is not a done thing to go to the loo in other people’s houses. Some people plain get offended if you ask them if you can use their loo, and consequently it is a bit embarrassing for guests here to enquire if they can use the loo. Thankfully there have been no Tycho Brahes in India (wasn’t he the guy that died of a bladder burst because he thought it would be impolite to the queen if he excused himself? ), or if there have been they haven’t been reported thus!
An unrelated (to the rest of the post) thought – steel and quality cement and elevators are all fine, but don’t you think one of the most important pre-requisites for the building of skyscrapers was the water closet? Just think about it.