New Delhi, India
December 30, 2006
The Toilet Museum is part of a complex with a school, a college of vocational training, a biogas plant, and research laboratories for waste disposal. It’s run by Sulabh International, an NGO that provides eco-friendly solutions for waste disposal. Sulabh’s synonymous with public loos in India, and run thousands of paid loos.
We visited the complex one hot Saturday afternoon. The staff were very welcoming. They showed us round, explained their work, and guided us round the museum. By the end, our feet hurt, but we’d gained an insight into shit!
Anyway: more about the museum, which was established in 1994. Though small, it contains a wealth of information on the history of personal hygiene, toilets, baths, and more. Almost every inch of the walls is covered with framed posters, arranged in chronological order as you move clockwise from the door. The display begins with a history of toilets in India. Ancient archaeological sites like Lothal, Taxila, and Harappa (2500 BC, with the Indian subcontinent’s oldest toilet) are showcased, as are the baths, sewers and drainage systems at newer sites like Golconda and Fatehpur Sikri. There’s also - snigger, snigger - a 'Toilet Etiquette Code’ from the Manusmriti Vishnupuran (1500 BC).
There’s lots of other information on the world’s first sewer (Rome, 615 BC); the public baths and sewers in Egypt (3000 BC), Babylonia, Crete, Jerusalem, and Pompeii. I didn’t read everything - there’s just too much - but I did learn some truly loony trivia. That till the 1100s, it was common in Europe for chamberpots to be emptied out the nearest window. That the first sewers in Paris were built in the 1200s; that in medieval Austria a bucket and a voluminous cloak could be hired if you suddenly 'felt the urge’ while out walking. That Louis XIII insisted on privacy while dining, but was quite comfortable crapping during an audience (I pity the poor audience). There’s more modern trivia too: Hatington invented the WC in 1596; Jennings invented the closet 300 years later; and the microwave loo appeared in 1990.
And there are models of historic loos: prettily painted chamberpots, urinals, bidets, and whatnot. There are loos disguised as upholstered sofas; a wooden chair; and a stack of books (English classics - this was a French invention). There’s the portable PortaPotti, and the Incinolet (which uses electricity to dispose of waste).
There’s even a handy tip: Su-jok therapy. To suppress the urge to 'go’, use a pen or other blunt object to press firmly down on your palm, tracing a square in an anticlockwise direction. Make sure it’s anticlockwise; clockwise will have the opposite effect.
Very informative, great fun - and worth a visit. The museum’s open from Monday to Saturday, from 10am to 5pm. Entry is free. For more, see Sulabh Toilet Museum.
From journal The Museums of Delhi