30 October 2010

On cleaning a toilet

“Nahi, nahi, chinta ki kya baat hai? Main kar dunga, koi pareshani nahi hogi…”

Cleaning a toilet is one of the most liberating experiences ever. It’s a dirty job, yes, but nonetheless an ordeal out of which one emerges cleaner in more than one sense.

Obviously, my Dadi doesn’t share these sentiments. Cleaning toilets is for the low caste: achuts, Dalits and SCs. Even if not, even then it’s for the maidservants or, at the very least, for the sarkari jamadar – not, certainly not, for her dear pampered grandson.

Yet, there was no one else to do it and so the lot fell on these shoulders. Why not too? What is in cleaning a toilet?

Something poignant as I see it.

Disgusting and filthy, yes, but poignant still, reflective of the unacknowledged labour of numberless multitudes who worked behind scenes to make those scenes what they are, presentable thus – does not history rest on the shoulders of those who lived and died in poop, pee and puke? A historic act? Certainly…

“Arre kahan phas gaye beta! Rehne do, ek haath maar ke hi aa jao...pote se aisa kaam karvana parh raha hai…”

“Mein theek hun Dadi.”

“Theek toh tum ho hi, par bas ab nibta ke aa jao. Aao aur nahao…”

But history still isn’t without the stigma of pollution, ne? What, what but a string of fables commonly agreed upon? History, indeed; the weight of history rather, imagined as much as real – more imagined perhaps than real. To clean a toilet? Pollution, inescapable pollution! Caste redeems, yes, but then such a caste too! An outcast caste, half here and half there: still, history weighs us down.

“Dadi, mann mein ek khayal aaya hai, kuch vachan dimaag mein ghum rahe hain.”

“Kaise vachan? Kam hua? Jaldi aao bhai!”

“Haan, haan…par sochiye, Gandhiji ne bhi toh aisa hi kuch kaha, kiya tha! Vaishnav jan toh ten ere kahiye, peer parai jaani re…”

Vaishnav Jan, Harijan. Harijan? Really? We who have the leisure to think, to consider our position in a wider order and the forces which bind that order, we make ourselves Harijans. Who else out of his/her own volition would be so? Still, in doing so, in such fashioning, one is that, one is so: peer parai jaani re…shit unites, shit holds what naught else can: everything said and done, we all carry shit within ourselves…


“Kya hua?”

“Honthon se chu lo toh, mera geet amar kar do: ek boond andar se chapak kar mere honthon ko chum gayi.”

“Hair ram, yeh larka! Bas ho gaya, aa jao! Hai ram!”

Whatever it might be, a job well done does give satisfaction. A toilet restored to its showroom shine does lighten the heart, bring a tune to the lips. Thank goodness for Harpic and the like too, for along with something noble cleaning the toilet is now also a sacred chore, a contributor to health and hygiene and the GDP in totality.

“Haan, kaam toh accha hi kiya hai tumne. Shahbash! Nahi, nahi, mujhe mat chuhiyo abhi! Ja naha ke aa, phir, phir!”

“Arre, toilet hi toh saaf kiya hai!”

“Haan, bas, toilet saaf kiya hai!”

20 October 2010

Lines Composed upon Wazirabad Bridge

(to Lakshita; or the idea of her)


Tranquillity or not, recollecting emotion is no mean task. You sit back, relax and spend many ponderous hours mulling over what you saw and felt at such and such place and so and so time. Every few minutes you think you’ve got it and you jump up in excitement and then just as soon you feel a sharp pang of disappointment when a mean little devil in your head rakes up doubt and whispers this wasn’t really it, you’ve missed something, that you’ve lost what it was for good…

It happens so many times too! Of course, for day to day commonplaces you don’t mind it happening, and you pass over such everyday trivia eagerly without a care. But for those things or events or just, well, moments, for these, for those for which you feel a special pang, not being able to recollect them perfectly well can be pretty irritating – irritating as it can be beautiful, both at the same time.

Really! I mean, you think and think and get all the more irritated at the way it just eludes you try as much as you can, but then there is a certain quaintly quixotic charm in this game of cat and mouse, in trying to fix reality knowing full well you never really can fix it after it’s over and done with. Is it man’s will, aiming a la Mirandola and ye olde Humanists to reach out for perfection in thought, in achieving a unity of thought and action, all a harmonious, shining whole? Or is it just plain, ruddy perversity, this hankering after a few seconds, wasting hours for a few moments when there’s much else to do: duties to fulfil, tasks to complete, life to be made…

See how it goes! From one to the other the chain goes on and on and so by leaps and bounds transports you leagues from what you started with. Such if life, and such is the human mind!

Wazirabad. It enters the city there; not literally, no, not in the geographical sense of entering the city limits and coming under the jurisdiction of some of its multiple bodies. No, not like that; yet, in that sense, in sense of jurisdiction, control, this is where it first falls under our control, us as a city. That’s where the first of the many bridges and barrages which we have over it here is and so, in that sense, that’s where it enters the city.

Nothing special about that. Of course not: it’s just yet another bridge and barrage over the mighty river. Ha! Not even a might river; a nallah, rather, as many of us are wont to derisively call it most of the time, implicating in such ridicule our governance, the famed bodies, in the twin conspiracy of corruption and pollution which has for long characterised any effort to restore it to any semblance of a living river. The Yamuna; not a river, a nallah: the Yamuna nallah.

Not a nallah then.

Mighty, mighty river! Crashing, pounding, taking all in its path – forward on to doom! The meek shall inherit the earth, and so the docile, staid, everyday nallah rises up in froth and fury to submerge man and his kind, to take down whatever comes in its path, threaten his arrogance with heavy blows, rot and decay! Chastise him with a heavy, heavy hand, a resounding slap against the vanity of his dreams…

It’s such a pity it didn’t flood, that it didn’t really break down all those banks. It would’ve been spectacular had it, had it flooded that Village. Ha! That would’ve been divine retribution for the Abhiyaan, something to finally award their long, fruitless vigil for nature and man. Not that death is pretty, nor that loss of property or of a lifetime’s hard work desirable. But rather it would’ve broken into our monuments than the lowly hovels, rather it would’ve reclaimed its own there and not thus. The poor always suffer; is the river a capitalist too?

Pah! A river’s a river and that’s it! Not, of course, like an urn’s an urn, or a daffodil’s a daffodil and that’s it, but still, a river’s no more than just that, a dead, lifeless river!

Yet, what a river and what a sight!

Perhaps it’s inexperience. I’m sure it is. A nallah otherwise, just now in spate – what of that?

Yet, why not? Why not indeed? A narrow, two laned bridge laden with the filth of man, his wheels. In it’s centre, the river’s centre, the centre where the channel runs deep and eternal and where now the watery expanse flows the most disturbed, waves upon stormy, turbulent waves of muddy water. Mud of the hills, mud of life, the seed of all our joys and sorrows, this water and mud…small whirlpools, just along the tired pillars aching to give up, make way, the steel of the walls long drawn up in abject obeisance to the river’s will. The will of man? A grain of sand tossed in a stormy sea…

It shakes. The heavy weight of tired souls; hearts laden with dust and grief, with daily cares and joys – the bitter-sweet offices of life and love. It shakes to the core. The mighty sinews of mortar and steel, what might before mud and water? Round and round the muddy water, through the grill a force unknown beckoning, pulling in to its dark, suffocating, deathless womb. It shakes. So shakes man, shaken to the core, his core: a nallah in spate.

Yet, what of it? A week, two at the most and the walls come down: the plains re-appear, the devotees with their plastics come back, the squatters, humbled yet again for no fault of their own, try yet again to piece together the shadow of a life. Spirit? A great city’s spirit, to continue as if nothing happened, as if twas naught but just another blip on the nation’s, the economy’s heart? Very few casualties, just a few displaced – the circle of life? Games people play…

Wazirabad. The nallah enters here. Soon there’ll be a bigger, grander bridge in its place, a bridge to make the city proud, a monument to its power and glory. The nallah flows on…