Toilet chronicles

So, let me give you a little background about myself. I am an engineer by education who has worked in the IT industry for two years. And I have lost my mind as per ..hmm..lets see…everyone I know to take a path which has me having an entire day today revolving around a toilet. Yes, a toilet ! Or to be more precise “The” toilet.

So how and why did I land up here?

 

Chapter 1

That’s a long story for some other day..that will be a mighty digression.

 

Chapter 2 – All about toilets

 

Today, I went for a sanitation drive in Baretha village. I had no idea what it was going to be all about. I imagined some school children taking out a rally about cleanliness holding placards and mouthing slogans. All very innocent and good photo ops for the local paper. And since I had nothing better to do (except perhaps finally moving into my own accommodation after putting up with my fellow fellows since I showed up in this place!!; yes ,yes, that’s some messed up priorities),I decided to tag along with one of my fellow fellows,lets call him Mr. so Zen one could mistake him to be permanently stoned. When we reach our destination, a power point presentation is already underway in a dingy, rickety room in the old, abandoned complex of the Forest Department. Apparently it’s good enough for power point presentations. Being badly lit is a virtue, plus the probability is in favor of the roof not collapsing in an hour-long session. So we take our place at the back of the room. The presentation is being given by an earnest, middle-aged man who looks passionate about what he is speaking. The presentation, which is about the Swachh Bharat Mission started by the government of India, turned out to be quite informative. We, the people of IT industry sitting in fancy offices in Bangalore have probably heard about Modiji waxing eloquent about this flagship project of the current government. But at the same time have no clue about what it entails except having the vague idea that it’s about cleaning the country, epitomized by the image of Modiji with a broom.

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The presentation in progress

Now was the time for me to be exposed to the specifics of this mission. Let me summarize what I got

  1. Rs 12000 will be given to each BPL family and to some categories of APL families such as one headed by a matriarch, a scheduled tribe family, one with a handicapped person etc to build a toilet, for its maintenance and a little arrangement for washing hands.
  2. Each village will be given some amount for solid and liquid waste management (SLWM) depending on the size of the village. For example, a village of 500 will get Rs 7 lakh.
  3. A “Swachhta Doot” will be designated in each village to sensitize people about building toilets and proper disposal of waste. Each such cleanliness messenger will get a sum of Rs 150 for his services, for every toilet built.

I have to say I was impressed that this mission had a roadmap for fulfilling the eponymous mission. Plus it was for a limited period of time, from Oct 2014 till Oct 2019. After that date, people will be fined for open defecation and may have the benefits from various government schemes stopped. Sounds good enough, if followed by proper awareness of the masses. Good thing, that’s one of the things I am here for.

The second part of the presentation was about the technicalities of building a toilet. Again the kind of thing we don’t worry about much except knowing or hoping that there is some magical drainage system carrying our excreta and dumping it somewhere far far away from us. The kind of toilet being built under this mission is the twin soak pit type requiring the building of two soak pits. It was surreal for me on many levels. Watching a PPT presentation in Hindi for one, watching the technicalities of toilet construction being the second and just generally contemplating about my life about what in God’s name led me here!

After this informative section, we had a small break before we headed for the practical session..of toilet building .Of course. This session gave me the confidence that I had learnt something useful that could help my stay in the village be that much more “normal” . Something that’s almost a life skill. I mean now I know what I have to do if I get dropped in a no man’s land without a toilet,which is an apt description of most of my block   ( and also of a significant percentage of this world, though I don’t claim to have the figures on my fingertips right now). I mean software writing skills won’t help. Good old toilet building skills might!  Yeah that’s right…take that ! ..the oh-so-mighty-world-conquering-IT-engineers.

The practical session lasted two days with the completion of the model toilet. The purpose was to train the mistris (the construction guys) in building the best toilet within Rs 12000. I must say I had never been exposed to so much civil engineering before.And the most important thing,  I understood it all. I already can see myself spreading the word about toilet construction, sounding like an expert who people would imagine has spent her college life learning this!

 

 

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The hole dug to construct the soakpit
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Soak pit construction in progress..
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The setting of seat being decided by the expert!

PS: This article was written on 9 Nov’16