Unheard tale of an unparalleled museum

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New Delhi, May 18 (UNI) As the world observes International Museum Day today, India has to offer a unique museum that may not be known to several of its people but attracts foreigners in droves -- a toilet museum.

When India's sanitation expert decided to set up the toilet museum, there were many who dissuaded him from doing so, saying in a country like India where 700 million people are denied access to safe and clean toilet, it would not have many takers.

An undeterred Dr Pathak went about his pursuit with a tremendous zeal. The result was the setting up of Sulabh Toilet Museum in 1995, which is tucked away at the western end of India's capital city New Delhi.

The founder of Sulabh International was extremely elated. In India one can talk of cuisine and eating habits. Even bathroom manners are discussed openly. But pot or pan for easing purposes is something no one wants to discuss. More so in public. But he succeeded in setting up a museum totally dedicated to toilets.

''The museum was conceived with the idea to educate and provide information on design, material and technologies on toilets adopted in the past," says Dr Pathak. To realise his goal, he contacted over 100 embassies and high commissions here requesting them to furnish information on the subject and also to provide details and photographs of various toilets used in their respective countries through the ages.

Help poured in from all quarters and arguably the only complete toilet museum of the world came into existence in 1994. To set the record right, there is a small museum of toilets in Austria.

India's Toilet Museum boasts of royal seats for easement. History has that King Louis XII of France preferred to eat in privacy but eased before an audience who considered it a good omen to watch the same. Pot used by Queen Victoria, studded with gold and gems with ivory inlay, can also seen in the museum.

Citations from Manusmriti on this subject and related social customs and laws too are aptly dealt here in this museum. It's quite queer to learn that in the middle ages Europeans used to throw excreta from their houses on to the streets. Natural scavengers like pigs got the same cleaned off. According to some experts, this probably was one of the reasons why 'high heels' for ladies were invented in late 15th century.

Talking of 'dates with toilets', one should know that the 19th century was called the "century of toilets" when patents were registered to help improve the quality of sanitation and attractive designs came in the market. In 1966, a Chicago hairdresser took a patent for a novel toilet seat which embodied a stimulator for relieving constipation and for general massage.

The museum has ornately carved and painted urinals, pictures and models of mobile toilets used for travelling and camping and Chinese toys to instill in children good toilet habits.

Museum curator B Jha seems quite enthusiastic when he underlines the fact that the very beginning of the civilisation is from the concept of easing with complete privacy. The museum has pictures and pots and commodes, which prove that as far as 2500 BC, people had this facility with drainage and cleaning system.

The museum displays the sewerage system of the 4500-year-old Mohenjodaro and Harappan civilisations tracing their highly developed drainage system where the common sanitation facility existed. In Egypt, Jerusalem and Babylonia, only the ruling elite and upper crust of the society enjoyed the privilege of commodes.

Under the Romans, public baths acted as meeting places for the people.

The museum treasures a mobile commode in the shape of a treasure chest which the English used while camping out for a hunt. Some robbers stole these treasure chests thinking that they contained something precious.

Also the museum is "icinolet", a futuristic space and submarine commode which incinerates human excreta into ash.

Dr Pathak hopes that the ongoing International Year of Sanitation would bring some relief to millions of Indian compelled to defacate in open whose ancestors had enjoyed the privilege of privacy and safety more than 4500 hundred years back.

UNI SKS SW RAI1339

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