Monday, 14 August 2017

The Great Indian Shit Problem

An Indian toilet (kunjila CC-BY-SA)

I am just back from the toilet. I had gone to pee. When i entered the toilet i realised that it had happened again. From the stench. I didn’t want to look there. It would ruin my day, sometimes weeks. It was the Great Indian Shit Problem.

My partner’s friend had come over. They chat about cinema. Sometimes i join in. But most of the time, when this friend of my partner whom i’ll call ‘Amt’ comes over, i am worried about just one thing. That like he had done the first time he visited, he would shit in my toilet and leave without flushing. It meant that if i was the one who went to toilet after him, i would have to pee/shit in the stench of his shit and see his shit.

Surprised? Don’t be. This is not an isolated incident or one of Amt’s idiosyncrasies. It is a problem that India has. As a country. We don’t know what to do with our shit. So much so that we entrust people — from a caste that we consider below others — with the job of cleaning it. If you have heard of India and not heard of the caste system, it means that you have only been reading brahminical news all this while.

India is a country where human beings were, as a tradition and as a profession, asked to carry the shit of other human beings. Manual scavenging in English. In Malayalam, my mothertongue, the word is derogatory ‘thotti’. This ‘job’ is reserved — oh the irony — only for Dalits. Would you believe it if i told you that manual scavenging was legally banned in India only in 2013? (Only the cleaning of ‘dry-toilets’ was banned in 1993)That is, just four years ago and 184 years after the ban on Sati. 148 years after the official ban on slavery in US, 52 years after the laws against dowry in India. Despite the law, manual scavenging continues unhindered, claiming lives of Dalits.

Amt’s habit is definitely not that of enforcing manual scavenging. Amt does not expect me or my partner to carry his shit on our head and dispose it. It is a habit that is common in India and only i seem to have a problem with. In here, the person who goes to the toilet after a practitioner of this ideology will have to see the colour and consistency of another person’s stool. With Amt, i have been that person and have flushed his shit down the toilet whenever it happened.

And it happens quite frequently. In hostels and even in strangers’ places. (As a matter of fact, we as a country are used to seeing a lot of human shit because we also practice open defecation. Here women get raped while they go to fields to defecate.) I am talking about manual scavenging and open defecation because i believe that the Great Indian Shit Problem has roots in it.

I thought about the problem a lot because for me, whenever it happens, it becomes a traumatic experience. I say traumatic, because like many incidents of abuse that i have faced, these shit-incidents flash before my eyes without warning. In my mind i get disgusted and get angry with the owner of the shit. For me, talking about shit is more awkward than talking about sex so it all happens in my head. The sight haunts me for weeks and it plays in my head when i talk to the perpetrators of the Great Indian Shit Problem. My thinking has resulted in the following conclusions.
  • In many parts of India, people don’t know how to use the Indian toilet.
OR
  • They pretend they don’t know how to use the Indian toilet.
  • People in India, especially Brahmins, believe it is okay for others to see their shit in the toilet.
Everyone seems to know that in a Western toilet you have to flush the shit down by pressing the flush handle. Not everyone does it. Some ‘forget’ to flush. Some leave after they flush without waiting to see if all of the shit goes down or not. For them, it is not important. I don’t know if there are others like me who have panic attacks thinking they forgot to flush and rush back before someone else enters the toilet. Or wait to see if there is even a speck of shit left in the closet after flushing, fill a bucket with water and flush it down again.

Oh the bucket. I have seen people who are not aware or who pretend to be not aware that shit can be flushed down even when the flush is not functioning and when there is no water in the flush tank. You just have to fill a bucket with water and dump it in the closet. I have even taken mugs of water repeatedly to flush shit down when there was no bucket in sight. These are very common situations in India and if a person doesn’t know these, it means that they believe that cleaning their own shit is not their business. Like most men. (Literally and figuratively.)I have seen shit floating in many public Western toilets. Where else is this belief and the audacity to practise it coming, than from India’s ‘tradition’ of manual scavenging?

Now the Indian toilet.

Consider the time when i was at this professor’s place in Thrissur, Kerala to learn how to play chess. This professor was a champion and a few children, including myself, had camped at his place for a week for coaching. One day, a girl came back from the bathroom clasping her nose with her hand, indicating disgust. She told us not to go to the bathroom where she had just gone. When we asked what the matter was, she said that someone had ‘done number 2’ in there. I soon saw the ‘number 2’ because my mother asked me to stay there for one day more than the other students because she thought i would get special lessons that way. I didn’t. What i got was the sight of someone’s shit in an Indian toilet in the bathroom where i was sent to take bath. I had to take bath standing in the stink of the shit that was now days old. I even thought of picking up a toilet brush and cleaning it up. (i have a servitude gene that helps me get into abusive relationships so…) I couldn’t do it. I cried. I took bath. And waited to be released from that place, chess coaching or not.

What i gathered from that incident was that in some families, it was not uncommon to leave one’s shit for someone else — in most cases, a domestic help — to clean.

I faced another version of this attitude when i lived in a hostel while learning cinema in Kolkata. Hostel meant shared bathrooms. That is when i realised that there were students who thought that after shitting and pouring water to clean their ass as well as the accumulated shit in the ceramic part of the toilet, their job was done. But that is not true about Indian toilets. Even if you clean the shit from the ceramic area, it only accumulates in the pipe filled with water at the end of it. It is very visible, floating over there. It is also very ‘smellable’ if left there. You can see the area (the round opening that is filled with water) i am talking about in the picture below.

Indian toilet — people refuse to remove shit from the pit area in the picture by pouring water in a bucket with some force. As a result, other people end up seeing other people’s shit. And bearing with the stench. (Image — kunjila CC-BY-SA)

It amazes me that a person can grow up in India and still not know these basics about cleaning one’s own shit. The first time i called it out was in my final year of filmmaking. I had knocked on my neighbour’s door and told them that they hadn’t flushed the toilet. When i went back in, the shit was gone. This mean that they knew how to do it. Yet, it was repeated and i had to knock on their door once again. I have lost count of times when i have seen this ‘floating shit’ in Indian toilets. This was what had happened with Amt too.

Another friend had complained that her neighbour left shit floating in the common Western toilet in the hostel. She suspected that he was doing so because he was high on marijuana. When i told this to the neighbour, he accused her of the same. Both were Brahmins. My neighbour in my hostel was too.
When i moved in with my partner, i got to know that he was someone who thought that in an Indian closet it was okay for him to leave his shit floating in the water pipe for me to see and smell. After i confronted him, he too proved that he certainly knew what to do because the shit disappeared. So did his habit. (Did i just save a relationship?)

When I saw Amt’s shit floating in the toilet for the first time, i immediately told my partner that it had happened. I was hoping he would talk to Amt. Instead, he replied, “At least he has started washing the plate he ate in.”

I don’t know what Indian men, Indian Brahminical men and those who emulate them smoke. Whatever it is, it is a substance that generates the illusion that women, dalits or your fellow human beings exist to clean up after them. This sexist wall drawing from a local
train station here says it the best.

Sexist wall drawing at Goregaon station, Mumbai (kunjila CC-BY-SA)

My partner is not brahmin and i don’t know Amt’s caste but i do think that this is a brahminical behaviour with roots in casteism. I can’t be sure because i have not heard anyone else talk about it.
Epilogue: I questioned Amt before he left. He swore that he always flushed after he shit and used copious amount of water. He gets chided at home for it, he said. I continue getting flashes of his shit and don’t know if he will ever visit again. My partner is taking lessons on doing dishes and laundry from me. In other words, i am shoving it down his throat.

Films, July, 2017, Bombay



1.     Microcosmos

Documentary on the microcosmic world.
Wow! What was that!
I am still not out  of the effect  it had one me. The film is like a fiction feature in which the characters are all small beings. In the world of small beings such as ants, the cock comes in, just like in a thriller film, he peeps into the ant’s nest and we see it from inside the nest. Oh, what a big monster. The climber climbing up. The flower going to sleep with the bee inside it. We clearly see how the pollens stick to the bees and how the flower deliberately tries to touch the bees with its pollen grains part. Wow! And the music. Really liked the use of music.
The snails making out. It looked gross to me in the beginning with all that slime but that scene was so beautiful. The caresses and the love. God! [Vai Vow made a bad attempt at a pathetic joke by saying ‘It’s not like they have to try. They’re always wet anyway.’] The wasp going around with its egg, the spider trapping the moth within seconds with its web. This film is just too awesome and this is a human supremacist who thinks that our race is better than all others speaking. So…

2.     . Two Days One Night

Daredenne brothers. Actor is the same as in Inception, The Dark Knight. About the employment situation there. Learnt a word called ‘dole’. The unemployment benefit given to people by the government in Britain. [Doled out is distribute and it can also mean a person’s destiny. Like ‘death be their dole who worst maintains the strife’. So this film is about a woman fighting to get back her job. She was fired and the other workers were asked to vote on the decision. If people vote for her and she wins, they’ll all lose a bonus of 1000. She goes from co-worker to co-worker asking if they can vote for her because a second secret ballot is going to be held. Politics at work. In the end one of her co-workers who voted for her, she is made an offer that she’d be allowed to continue if that person’s contract is not renewed. That way. Nice film. Not great. Rosetta is the best Dardenne brothers I’ve watched till now.

3.       The Deer Hunter
About people during war. It’s a three hour long film. Robert DNiro and this other actor whom you’ve seen in Inception? Let me check him out. Want to know where I’ve seen him before. Annie Hall is a film I’ve watched. Now will have to watch again. Batman Returns. Pulp Fiction. Sleepy Hollow. Yeah these are the films that I’ve watched in his list but don’t remember any of the roles. I loved him in The Deer Hunter so would like to watch all of these again.
The film, I don’t know, why were they glorifying America? The ‘game’ – Russian Roulette, it is called – isn’t that something! What would the people who play that game be like. I’ve watched 13Tzameti and it was an unforgettable experience. Of course, who wouldn’t want to make a film on that but really, it amazes me that such a game existed. Is murder about power too, like how rape is? There was a scene in which everyone sang a song and it dawned upon them, the gravity of the situation. That was nice. But I can’t agree with any of the American thing. They should get out of that habit and start making films that condemn wars waged by their country. Wikipedia says it’s an anti-war film but I don’t see how. Yes, it destroyed people’s lives but in the end why are all of them singing America great again. Or it is how civilians work? Is that what the intention was?

4.      Taxidermia

Didn’t like the film one bit. First of all it shows a lot of erect dicks. I don’t like it. I believe there is a difference. Anyway, it starts with a man who plays with the flame of a candle, he is then seen emitting fire from his dick. I am so sick and tired of these men talking in length about body and its ‘need’ and then show sexual activities, jerking off to young girls etc as if it’s a natural outcome of that ‘need’. So sick of that. Stop making such films, please. You have the whole universe telling you that and we, a small group, saying it doesn’t mean shit. Anyway in the end there is a taxidermist in the generation of people who eat, like a pig or something. Lots of gross stuff done to elicit ‘yuck’ reactions from people. Body, blood, flesh, corpulence, sex, woman becomes pig, cunt, woman, pig, child is born with a tail etc. Some shit. Why do people consider this a great film again?

5.      Catch Me If You Can

Great script. Based on a true story. Read up on the true story. This con man who is a juvenile. Leonardo De Caprio. These things in commercial films. You need to have many such things in a great commercial film. The one that you will have to make to make people talk about the real things. De Caprio tears off the wrappers on champagne bottles and everything. That was put there so that later, in the wedding that was going to happen, Tom Hanks could see a bottle like that
How it all begins, from the father – played by the actor who played Nick in The Deer Hunter. [The reason why I downloaded this film.] The line do you know why the Yankees always win was put there so that it could be repeated later. So is the tale of the two mice (frog in mallu land) and remember that’s where we see that this boy tears the paper off the champagne bottles.
I liked the part where we think Tom Hanks is lying. He tries to lie. We, till the end don’t get to know if he is lying or not. About his broken family, his daughter, his daughter’s age etc.
Now I have to watch all films by Steven Speilberg. Yes.
Title sequence. Cut and upload for the world to see.
[Depiction of women in this picture is pathetic. The model who has become a sex worker – implying what ‘these women really do’ and many more female characters like that. It also says that it is easier to con women than to con men. In so many words. Bevy of women airhostesses he uses to get out of the airport. All police people look at the women and don’t see the guy at all. Also somewhere blaming the broken family. Don’t know if that detail was from the real story. Anyway, they never showed that the woman was feeling guilty or something like that. I liked that.]

A title card from Catch Me If You Can. Vlc snap


6.      Takeoff

What a pathetically Islamophobic film. ISIS malayali. The good Muslim. The terrorist Muslim. The mallu who holds powerful positions everywhere. Probably Nair. Check the names of all the Hindus in the film when you prepare the video for this. These oppressed suppressed women -

7.      Schindler’s List

Steven Speilberg film. Sethuvamma said she and papaji had watched it together and that she remembered a scene where the Jews were taken to a gas chamber. I don’t know why the people who did what they could, to help Jews during Hitler’s reign should be celebrated this way. They are even called the Schindler’s Jews. Is that right? He was in SS and he did what he could because he knew what humanity was or love was. I don’t know. But that’s the least a person can do. The film itself is not that well made. Catch me if you can was much better. It is long for no reason.
The film is not entirely black and white. Look up what they did. The sight of a little girl wearing a red cloak. Later we see a deadbody with the same red cloak. Lighting of candles in the beginning – these were in colour.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

'More Adjectives' Someone Told me for the First Time: Mental Health, Therapy, Trying to Live

In my third appointment with my therapist Ish, i had tried to differentiate between my thoughts and my feelings. It still wasn't enough, she told me. For the first time, someone asked me to use more adjectives. I hope to indulge.

I told Vai Vow that he didn't have to come. I knew that he didn't want to come and was offering to come so that i wouldn't feel bad. I felt i was spending too much when i took an auto instead of the train. The guilt of the middle class should be a book and i should write it.

During the therapy, i revisted some of the abusive relationships i was in. I felt cold. Didn't feel like crying but that what happens to me when i am excited or scared or a mix of emotions i can't  name, happened. My teeth were chattering when i spoke about what N had done.

At the computer repair shop, they behaved exactly how i thought they would behave. Felt rage inside me. I imagined slapping the man. When he started explaining the reason why he couldn't take payment by card, during his long fucking rant i just kept staring at him. I thought i saw an expression that amounted to confusion. He was not able to decipher that form of response, it seemed. Whenever the two men said a sentence that was insulting or arrogant or was a lie, i felt like slapping them. Back in the road, i felt like holding the man's face with my fist and repeatedly slapping him.

What i did, is cry. I analyzed the reasons why they treated me the way they treated me. I knew it was my clothes, my complexion, my class that they had guessed to be something below them, my caste that they had guessed to be something below them. I did not speak in English purposely, there. Even when he tried to mansplain in English, thinking that would shut me up. I continued in Hindi, thinking of the larger picture. I was imagining a situation where the girl didn't know English. How they would've treated her. 

This exercise makes me remind of Inji Pennu. She had once told me that whenever i got such violent thoughts i should jot it down. She told me that she had had the same problem once. She would've laughed if she saw me now doing this after being instructed by my therapist. 'I knew it all along, you never understood my greatness,' she would've said.

After Vai Vow got pissed and decided to go back and shout at them and i dissuaded him, i felt guilty. Sunk deeper into the sadness pit thinking i always brought this on people who loved me or came with me. Wrote a mail to Lenovo. During the time i was mailing and trying to find out where i could complain, i once kept clicking on a button, relentlessly.

The week ended with a new problem of sexual harassment cropping up. I got news that Director, Debamitra Mitra is spreading a lie that sexual harassment activist students broke the surveillance cameras at the main gate. Then started strategies, calls and all the usual things. Felt dejected. When is this all going to end!

Here is the poster i made for WASH sensitization programme. Too much to do. Too little time.