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A Rambler in the Loo
|by Dipankar Dasgupta|
Somewhere in time
Ever since I reported to you my fateful experience in a Japanese restroom, I have tried my level best to stay clear of any discussion pertaining to that subject. But, as you get older, your resolves start wavering. And then, before you know it, you are back to your infatuation, driving people nuts in the process!
So, here I am, ready to pour out profanities once more. My only defence is that it was you who inspired me this time, by lamenting over the condition of public loos in India. You touched a sensitive chord in me, my son, and there is no way you can stop the tirade anymore, short of committing patricide.
Ah! What a pleasure it is to pontificate on the subject! And what better place to expound on it, except the loo itself? Rather curious this, you know, the Japanese john. The seats are dotted with little light sources, flickering in green, red and orange! And push button switches stare at you tantalizingly when you are at the job. Yet, the explanations written underneath the switches being in Japanese, you feel wary before succumbing to the weakness of pushing one or the other. Hopefully, you might think, the arrangements reflect Japan's progress in the technology of defecation. But, I must remind you of the immortal scene from Chaplin’s Modern Times, where they had discovered a feeding machine to cut down on workers’ lunch breaks in factories. You cannot help worrying you know. Is this a contraption to make you stop loitering in lavatories? If so, who knows what the push of an innocuous button might lead to? A kick in the bare bottom perhaps? Worse still, suppose it were to activate a centripetal force designed to drag out the contents of your sluggish bowels and, that due to some malfunctioning or the other, it pulled you in instead, lock, stock and barrel! Spending the rest of your life in Japanese sewers is not an appealing prospect, you have got to admit. Pretty close to Dante’s trip through Hell. Even a vague familiarity with the classic would have a sobering influence on ordinary mortals, and prompt them to hold their hands stiffly behind their heads while seated on the suspicious machines.
Well, that at least was the way I was using the toilets tillrecently. Behind the closed door, I would start out by making apologetic gestures to the bowl itself, resembling Chaplin again inhis efforts to appease the boxing rival in City Lights. I dare not sit down before I thought it was adequately propitiated. And even after I succeeded in executing the act of sitting, I remained in terrified agony till I was done. All my mirth gone! No impromptu bathroom singing stirring up my vocal strings! If you were to peep in, my posture might conjure up visions of a bank hold up.
Ever since the Garden of Eden days, however, the strongest of individuals have been seduced. A weakling such as I can hardly be an exception. So, one fateful day in late autumn, I fell! I yielded to the allurement of the all too inviting switches. And discovered the truth in Mephistopheles’ advice to Dr. Faust. Give in to your worst weaknesses, boy, and there follows rich enjoyment. Such indeed was my experience. For, lo and behold! A stream of warm water spouted forth from some region inside the bowl (that I was not acrobatic enough to locate, given the position in which I sat, and imagine the rest of humanity sits when it comes to rendezvous’ with toilet bowls), and began to … ahem! But imagine my surprise as well as glee!
Once you give way to greed, there’s no end to it, as Gautama Buddha would have us believe. So, I pushed yet another switch and almost screamed in delight. The tip of the spout had begun to move around! Gone were my stiffness and fear. Hands no longer behind the head.Bottom no longer petrified. It gyrated instead,in response to themusic of the gushing H2O. Or, shall we say the Blue Danube?
Waltzing about the toilet seat reminds me of the great Tailangaswamy waltzing in the Ganges. He was a hermit who, instead of choosing the woods as his hideout, had decided to live in the rivers. Ganges mainly. Was an expert swimmer by all accounts, but had this habit of popping out of the water where least expected and scaring the bathers out of their wits. Partly because he never wore any clothes and insisted on delivering sermons in that state! It appears moreover, and do please forgive me if this spoils your lunch, that he could suck in the river water through his posterior and wash his intestines! In sterile scientific terminology, he had converted involuntary into voluntary muscles. Not a product of the market economy mind you. Pure yoga and that alone!
Amazing, isn’t it? A naked Indian sadhu, performing a trick that makes Japanese technology blush. Or, for that matter, the entire West. One feels proud of the Indian heritage. Unless of course, you stop to consider the other side of the coin. Swamy was polluting river water regularly as a by-product of his yoga stunts. Worse, he inspired all Indians in his vicinity, whether they possessed yogic skills or not, to pollute rivers with impunity, by merrily washing their asses in them. Which they had been doing in any case since the beginning of creation, or at least the birth of the Ganges.
Poor Ganges, enduring it all through the ages! Come to think of it, the blame lies squarely with Vishnu and Narada. In case you haven’t heard, the latter was a Tansen of sorts among the Hindu Gods. His renowned singing simply melted his listeners. Sometimes literally, as was the case with Vishnu, or at least one of his toes. It melted we are told, while its owner was too absorbed in Narada’s singing to notice, and metamorphosing into a gigantic mass of water, went on wandering hither and thither, like a lonely meteorite lost in outer space. Till, completely by chance, it entered the earth’s atmosphere and rushed downwards at ever increasing speed, presumably under the accelerating influence of gravity. No one was around to save you and me and Vishnu was himself too groggy to undo Newtonian laws, despite the fact that a miracle was in order. Sensing which, a team of weeping Gods ran to Mahadeva and pleaded with him to find a way out of the disaster. He was moved at the sight of the lamenting G’s, who, as far as I can make out, had too few miracles in their repertoires, to be able to solve the harder problems of universe on their own. Suggests a distributional inequality in divine society. Some Gods possessing better miracle kits than others. A bit unfair, you’ve got to admit.
M’deva of course was not stingy. Didn’t mind turning on a charm or two for a common cause. So, he came out of his lair and stood under the canopy of the blue sky like a veritable Atlas, waiting to keep back the irresponsible Vishnu’s liquefied toe from crushing down on earth. M’s head, with all his matted hair, was far bigger no doubt than the monstrous proportions of the molten toe. The miniature representations of M that you see in Indian homes are but caricatures of the real one. He has to reduce his size on occasions, to fit the imaginations of nubile Bengali girls, who, since time immemorial, have been taught to pray for husbands as qualified as a dwarfed Shiva. (Apparently, your mother too went through a lot of such rituals in her youth. The result, alas, was me!!) He was so big indeed that when he came out of his den, there was no place left for anyone else. Imagine how big his den was then. This now is a problem again. I seem to be caught between Scylla and Carbides. To save humanity from imminent destruction, M had to assume his full size, but this itself left no place for human beings either. My knowledge of mythology is too limited. So, I don’t know how the Hindus solved the puzzle. The scientifically minded might appeal to Einstein's theory of an expanding universe. But the rest had better take recourse in nineteenth century romantic poetry, and agree to exercise a wilful suspension of disbelief. In other words, don’t be a bloody bore. Simply assume away the problem and proceed. Which I will.
Just when the holy T was about to submerge creation, M imposed a blockade. The water mass got completely trapped in his hair and could not find its way out. Everyone concerned heaved a sigh of relief and peace returned toearth. (I seem to recall that they plagiarized the idea of a large mass of water in one of Steve Reeves’ Superman films.)
Unfortunately, the poor kid was not allowed to remain concealed for too long. One King Bhagirath found out about her abode and began to grumble that civilization was on the verge of destruction, this time due to a shortage of water. No water to be found anywhere, except for that huge mass of untapped resource, tucked away in M’s hairy crest. By now, M had gone blue under the colossal weight on his head anyway. He must have been only too relieved therefore to unburden himself. Thus, the Ganges you and I know was eased out of Shiva’s head by Bhagirath and carefully guided through the drought-ridden plains of North India. Being a little pompous himself, the chap even called a part of the river Bhagirathi.
It didn’t take T’swamy and his tribe too long to discover the diverse purposes for which they could use the river. Given the choice, I am sure that Ganges would have preferred to freeze back to her pristine state, as Vishnu’s missing toe. But that was not possible, since V didn’t miss his T, as far as I can tell. Nor was M gullible enough to offer his head a second time for her to roost in. Instead, she had to find solace in the fact that she was decreed as unpollutable. The holiest of holies! Do what you like, you can’t defile her. Tonsure your head, take a dip in the river and voila! Your soul is purified forever, even if your body emerges with a dead frog clinging to your chest.
If the stench disturbs you in your quest for purity, it must be an aberration of your mind. As was the case when you visited a public utility in the not too distant past. Wondering, are you, what this last bit means? I guess I have to draw your attention to the scriptures. Appearance, they say, must by all means be distinguished from the essence. The material world around us is merely an illusion, be it the infinite variety of Gangetic scum or the gruesome sight of public conveniences. I actually read about it in a collection of pamphlets called the Upanishads. I am not sure of course if this is what they really said, because it’s one of the most difficult exercises I have ever subjected my poor brain to. Left me devastated for many weeks, till I found out that there were popular versions of the book also, for simpletons like me. The one I located was called the Bhagvad-Geeta. Don’t believe a word though of what they say about this book. It is no more user friendly than its predecessors. Far from making life easier to pursue, it asked me to perform a task that was horrendously difficult: to remain equally undisturbed in happiness and sorrow! I mean, whether it was an Income Tax Officer who summoned me, or Madhuri Dixit. That was the limit I thought. And recall that the Upanishads added on to this an inane corollary: the dissimilarity we perceive between your loo and mine is purely imaginary. Because, nothing actually exists. May be even you and I don’t. Descartes notwithstanding. Cogito without sum!Hey man! The very notion makes me miss a heartbeat, assuming of course that there is a heart for its miserable beat to be missed.
Perhaps M should have kept his philanthropic propensities at bay and let V’s toe carry out the destruction. That would preclude the existence, amongst lesser beings, of polluters of public johns, and amongst greater ones, of polluters of public minds. Those who scare innocent onlookers by spinning ontological paradoxes. Of course, in that event, the Brahmanda itself would have gone up in smoke. And along with it, the anda-s that fertilized into you and me. But then, what’s the point of creating a guy, merely to make him fret day and night that he may not have been created after all?
See what’s happened? Only a minute ago, I was enjoying my solitude, harmlessly pushing buttons here and there. Watching the multicoloured lights blink. Singing paeans to the potty. Not a care in the world. And now someone’s come out with the loony idea that I may not even be! Oh yes! M should definitely have left Vishnu’s toe alone.
And indeed, this is not the only instance of Monsieur Shiva’s indiscretions. On another occasion, he struck terror in the hearts of many by pampering a wicked, wicked chap called Illwal. Had it not been for the self sacrificing Agastya, I wonder where some of us would be hiding today. Possibly deep inside Veerappan’s jungles. In the interest of mankind, Ag’y boy even committed a supremely impolite act in public. But that story, with its sound and fury, must wait for later.
Tons of love.
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