“Toilet first, temple later” – Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi
The International Sulabh Museum of Toilets is not a popular tourist destination. It is hidden away in SW Delhi, in Kali Nagar, Mahavir Enclave. It isn’t close to any metro station, so I checked Google Maps and discovered how to get there by bus. I walked to the bus stop at “Richie Rich”, a prominent wedding venue on M Gandhi Marg. But there was no sign of a bus stop, just a few people hanging about and a lonely auto rickshaw hoping that someone would quit waiting and hire him.
The bus I needed stopped and I got on board. It was heaving with people. One kind gentleman tapped me on the shoulder and courteously offered me his seat. I thanked him and sat down by the open window. At first, the warm wind felt cool as my sweat evaporated. The drier I got, the hotter I became. It was 42C.
We hurtled around the Outer Ring Road in moderate traffic. The driver was ruthless, jamming the heel of his hand on the horn every few seconds to alert a car that was pootling along, or to warn a rickshaw which might be thinking of changing lanes. I alighted at Tilak Nagar and waited for my connection. The 801 didn’t seem to run on Saturdays, so after twenty minutes I asked an Indian lady for help. I chose her because she looked as though she might speak English, rather than the likely lads who were fooling around by the bus shelter. She took pity on me and pushed me onto another bus to Uttam Nagar.
Delhi Transport Corporation didn’t send a bus down Shaheed Balwan Singh Solanki Marg, so I got on a private bus. This was such a wreck that the steel legs of one of the bench seats had sheared off. The seat was upside down behind the driver. I followed the route on Google Maps, but my little blue dot passed the museum on the screen without seeing any sign of it outside the bus.
I got off and retraced my route. Behind a high wall, I saw Sulabh College. I tentatively peered inside the metal gate and was pounced upon by a friendly chap who escorted me to the museum, hidden in the depths of the complex.
The courtyard was like a bizarre mini golf course. There was a series of holes (flanked by raised footprints) of different designs, twin squatters, covered by brick, concrete and bamboo huts. There was also an exhibit of some hard black balls of faeces which had been recovered from a pit latrine. The curator told me that they were not natural, but moulded by hand. I wondered if they used them for mini golf.
I looked at some photographs of splendid aubergines and turnips grown in human manure, as compared to no fertiliser. The curator told me of all the methane they were harvesting from latrines and how waste water could be cleaned biologically to be reused for any purpose other than drinking. His vision was for an India where everyone’s night soil was hygienically collected and utilised.
The museum was a single large room dedicated to toilets, their history and humour. Like many Indian museums, India is hailed as the site of the original, the prototype, of future achievements. Toilets were invented by the Harappa civilisation, 2500 BC, for example. There were articles posted on the walls celebrating passing urine, farting and defaecating.
It was a free museum, but I had to spend a penny in the perfectly clean facilities.