Yeah, shit happens. So does scatological humour in this blog. So don’t say you weren’t warned. This blog might not be in good taste but taste is the last thing on your mind when you see shit.
Well, the funny thing about it at the grassroots level is that they actually want you to do it in the fields.
Yeah, I didn’t have the luxury of staying at a hotel cuz the villages I went to work in were all kinda remote. We stayed at a construction site in Killai, which is exactly half way between Cuddalore and Nagapattinam. Killai is supposed to be among the neglected areas and there are about 15 villages around the place I stayed at, volunteering for AID India.
So this construction site was like home to all of us volunteers – some 30 of us and all the men (two thirds of the population) slept in one room in the first floor. No fans but then, there were no windows either. So it was as good as an air-conditioned room with the chill of the night keeping us adequately warm under the thick blankets and straw mats played the role of mattresses that we from the city are so used to.
The mobile phone signal was weak and one had to go to the terrace (which we called the communication tower) to make a call and send messages. We had to pick plates from the backyard, get our food and then wash the plates ourselves and put them back in the backyard for others to do the same.
The water tank (thotti) in the backyard doubled up as a wash-basin and a bath-tub as volunteers merrily jumped in to have a bath in the open. So far so good. It was fun indeed.
So what was the problem?
There was no unload area for the stock consumed during the day. Yeah, no pot. No toilets. “Do it in the field,” a helpful volunteer suggested. “I went early in the morning when not many people are around,” said another. My friend who was down from his film school in Kolkata to help with the video said: “When in Rome…” Later, he came back and said it was all good but for a few “logistical issues” which he didn’t want to explain. But it was a task well executed thanks to toilet paper donated by a woman friend, who, of course had the privilege of being taken to the only house in the area which had a western style commode. The rest of the womenfolk too had access to it.
I was half ready for this situation and was pretty confident that my system would co-operate.
So I declined the offer to do it in the fields. That’s when I realised that work at the grassroots meant that shit only happens in the field. Also realised why city-based volunteers don’t stay long enough. They just come for a day or two, talk to victims, stay in hotels (if available around) and then go back to their luxuries of designer bathrooms and comfy commodes.
Then on, we had nothing else to talk about but this. Should we steal one of those pots used to fetch water and use it as a commode? Or should we sit at the edge of the terrace parapet in the middle of the night and download into the garden below and “fertilise the soil” as my film-school friend described the functionality of the ritual in Indian villages.
Day One passed peacefully. Day Two was good too. So was Day Three. But my friend was sceptical about my system. “Nature has been calling you for a while now and you aren’t picking up her calls. She’s been sending smses till now. If you don’t respond there’s soon going to be a Tsunami after lunch.”
He was right. Day three was stretching it a bit too long. But my system hadn’t actually started protesting, so I was still confident. But then after dinner I figured that they locked the gates of the place we were staying in. So I can’t really rush out to the fields even if I had to.
That was a day we had another half a dozen volunteers landing up and there was no place to sleep but outside the house. I was glad in a way. At least there was an escape route, just in case I felt the dormant volcano erupting.
Fortune favours the brave they say and yes, it did. There were other sort of disturbances that night though. A cat jumped on a friend sleeping next to me and he got up shit scared. Wasn’t I glad it didn’t pounce on me.
Day Four afternoon, we reached Pondicherry on our way back home. My system told me it could hold on till I got to Madras but then once I got into the loo. The lovely sight of a commode made me compassionate towards my co-operative system. I’ll spare you the details of what happened next but yeah!
For me, relief work happened four days after I did relief work for the villages around Killai.
We celebrated with a late lunch at Sea Gulls Pondicherry, which is right next to the sea. An Orange Bacardi Breezer, heavenly Chilly Gobi, Egg Biryani…. A holiday, finally.
Never mind the irony of the situation – the plight of those we went to help along the coast, just a few kilometres south.
Strange alright, but hey, it all went down well cuz we knew we did our bit.
What did we exactly do? Well, I might blog about that later. Just wanted to break the monotony of the last few serious posts. He he!