As we deal with the shocking murder of two sisters in Badaun, Sulabh International Museum of Toilets on Palam Dabri Road acquires significance for many reasons
I embarked on this series thinking it would wind up in a few weeks because there aren’t those many museums to keep me occupied for longer. Week after week, I am proven wrong. They may be far from the best museums of the world, but the fact is a number of them exist in the city and we remain oblivious to them.
Sulabh International Museum of Toilets, I feel, could do a bit more with publicity. Those few who come away impressed mention it in the visitors’ diary also. A museum so unlikely, it ought to have excited many more than it has but its location – Palam Dabri Road, Mahavir Enclave 1 – is also a factor in getting lower footfall. Publicity of this museum at every Sulabh Toilet could help.
As we deal with the rape and brutal murder of two young women in Badaun, who had gone to defecate in the open, movements like Sulabh acquire even more relevance. The museum, a radical idea, is part of the movement and hence it is crucial for it to engage with as many people as possible. Sulabh has, in fact, announced toilets for each family in this village at the earliest.
Sulabh International Museum of Toilets narrates the 4,500-year old history of sanitation through a varied collection of posters, photographs and life-sized replicas of toilets used in different parts of the world during different time periods. A collection of loos, commodes and bidets dot this museum. From chamber pots to King Louis XIV’s personal throne which doubled as his toilet, to a modern-day portable toilet in a tent, there is a lot to see at the museum which has now been ranked third among the world’s 10 weirdest museums by Time magazine. The museum was started in 1992 by Bindeshwar Pathak, who founded Sulabh International in 1970, an NGO dedicated to the cause of hygiene and sanitation.
A young curator joins the visitor as soon as you enter and happily takes you through the exhibits that begin with the story of toilets in use during the Harappan civilization. That aesthetics were an all pervading aspect of our ancestors’ lives can be gleaned from the photograph of the terracotta pan with a defecation hole in the middle used during the Kushana period. Then comes the interesting toilet trivia gathered from across the world, throwing up facts like the introduction of first pay and use toilet in 1771 AD in Paris, toilets made compulsory in Britain in 1848 AD, introduction of the first attached toilets in 1737 AD etc. It is followed by the photographs of the primitive toilets in Golconda Fort and Fatehpur Sikri.
That extensive research has gone into it is apparent from the mine of information that’s available at the museum. I was particularly intrigued by how the Italian master Leonardo da Vinci was asked to draw plans for flush toilets for a castle. You can learn about the practice of throwing human waste from the windows in Leicester, U.K., in 1088 AD that contributed greatly to the Black Death, a ghastly plague there.
A section on toilet humour and poetry is also great fun if you spend some time going through the photographs and posters. Sample this: NOTICE “Warning! Due to Industrial action this toilet will be closed tomorrow so do as much as you can today”. Photographs of toilet signage, restaurants inspired by it and interesting toilet innovations and information like why kawakawa public toilets in Auckland are rated amongst the best public restrooms in the world make up this section. Decorative wash basins, models of Japanese electronic push button toilet, an electric loo that burns human waste into ash, a toilet with an advertising for a bakery in Las Vegas are other exhibits that will catch your attention.
There is a lot to see in the Sulabh Bhawan campus too and Sulabh employees are only eager to take you through their bio-gas innovations, sample toilets even in this unbearable heat. Bindeshwar Pathak’s enthusiasm and commitment hasn’t left anyone untouched in the organisation.
Sulabh International Museum of Toilets is located at Sulabh Bhawan, Mahavir Enclave, Palam Dabri Marg, New Delhi.
(It is open from Monday to Sunday from 10.30 a.m. to 5 p.m. hrs to 1700 hrs. There is no entry fee and photography is allowed. Phone numbers - 25031518-19, 25032617, 25032654)