Posted: October 26, 2011
I saw ‘The Help’ last week with my daughter. As I watched the movie unfold, I was amazed at how they focused on the help using an outside bathroom, and how distasteful and demeaning it was to them as human beings. In India, this practice is commonplace. Even today, the servants have a separate toilet if any; the open countryside or side of the road suffices, and they sit on the floor and eat in separate dishes. Even the rice bought for them is of an inferior quality. No servant would dare sit on a chair in the presence of the family. This is something we live with, and though my sensibilities were offended by the ‘bathroom issue’ in The Help, I know that on returning to India I will not bat an eyelid at the treatment of servants in my home. And to be truthful in our home we respect and treat them well. If you look at the lives of the lowest caste in India thesudras, or untouchables, their condition is pathetic, and even hearing about it makes your blood boil. From beatings to burning and ostracism, the list goes on. In many parts of rural India this is still a way of life, where people belonging to this caste simply accept their lot and don’t ask for more. Of course there has been an effort to uplift the classes through reservation and education, but the effort is too small to impact society at the level of the village. This is why I introduced Velandi into my book to demonstrate the contrast between the classes and the sheer injustice of it all. This is an extract from When the Lotus Blooms
She stopped just outside as she heard the noise of water. The parayan had come early to clean the latrine. Nagamma was not going to be too happy about that. No one had used the toilet as yet, and smell would become unbearable by tomorrow when he returned once again to clean. The latrine sat on a raised platform with three steps leading to it. Every morning the parayan crawled through a small side door and scooped away the stinking remains that lay underneath. Rajam watched in silence as he poured water and washed out the filth. As he crept out from the aperture beneath the toilet, he gave her a toothless grin. He wore a dirty undershirt and had his veshti tied almost like a loin cloth. His hands and clothes were covered in the muck that he worked with all day.
Rajam felt repulsed and sorry at the same time. What a job! All day he toiled in the filth and dirt, making the world a cleaner place to live in. She wondered if he realized how important his job was to them. If he missed coming to clean even one day, it became impossible to use the toilet without gagging. Still, she could not bring herself to come anywhere near him and stayed rooted to the same spot till he finished collecting the garbage and exited through the back door into the street that only parayans could use. He, too, sensed how his presence revolted her and left the house as quickly as he could. She was a brahmin woman, and he was a parayan, an untouchable. He knew his place and did not want to transgress the strict rules governing his presence in the brahmin quarter.
He had absolutely no clue that his life or his job was of any value to anyone.