(Warning: if you are easily offended by toilet humor, go somewhere else. And though this isn’t a “science” post, worry not, a scientific temper will be felt throughout the post, even if it is a “crap post”)
It was probably Mark Twain who said “sex is the most overrated pleasure, while defecating is the most underrated one” (ok, if he didn’t say it, sue me. At least it makes a good opening line if we pretend he said it).
But this post is not just about defecating, though “relieving one’s self” (as some more gentle readers, particularly Indian ones, might phrase it) plays a central role. This is a tale from a time long gone by, a tale of suffering and endurance, of persistence and heroism, and final glorious victory.
It all started somewhere in middle school/junior high when I joined the junior division of the National Cadet Corps (NCC) in a moment of delusion. Actually, we were given a choice between the NCC, the boy scouts, the “green brigade”, and the “students association for road safety”. My choice was made because “real boys” joined the NCC. The scouts were for softies who wanted a ton of badges, and the other two were for pansies. So, there I was, marching up and down in the Southern Indian heat, as a freshly minted cadet.
Now, as some of you might know, part of the training required that we spend time in a “combined annual training camp”. And since most of us were in the NCC for two or three years, that meant attending at least two of those camps. Usually they were held at some old army barrack or government school. The first camp was somewhere in Doddaballapura (which in the old days was 30 km from Bangalore). Kit bags in hand, our unit, filled with upper-middle class or spoilt rich kids, reached the camp. The accommodations (in some large hall) were alright, at least it was clean. The day wore on, and then of course, nature took its course, and the urge hit us (particularly after eating the muck they served). So, we had to look for the loos.
Except, there weren’t any.
The army soldiers and JCOs in charge were supposed to have prepared “camp style” loos, which basically were deep trenches surrounded by a tarp, with a plank to perch on and poop. The rule (apparently) was that there would be around one trench for 10 or so cadets. After each poop, the cadet would use the bucket of sand placed strategically close by, and cover up the results of his colon’s work with sand. This would prevent the poop from stinking (due to slow semi-aerobic bacterial decomposition), wouldn’t attract swarms of flies, and the deep trench would last for the scheduled ten days.
Unfortunately, those lazy bastards (LB’s) decided to cut corners. For the entire group of some 300 cadets (from some 6 odd schools), they dug THREE trenches. Given the time pressures involved (particularly early in the morning), it was practically impossible for each user to complete the assigned task and cover up all traces with sand. This meant that by day two, the bogs were stinking and the swarm of flies around the pits probably resembled the proverbial plague of locusts that Moses saw. The second thing those LB’s forgot was that the camp was being held in mid July or something. Now, just about every person in South India (that would be about 300 odd million people) knows that the monsoons show up in late June. The least they could have done was to have put up a tarp roof over the trench-loos. Nope, to cut corners (and save effort) they didn’t bring any extra tarps. Nature of course is merciless, and did the expected. It rained.
If you can imagine the nature of the cesspool that was created at the trench-bogs after the rains, you are one sick, disturbed individual. There came a day (that would have been day 3 of the camp) when cadets unanimously resolved to halve their food intake, and poop only every other day.
The next year was in some ways even more entertaining. This time, the camp was held in a very reasonable government school somewhere, which DID have loos. Except, it wasn’t built to handle 300 odd cadets. Plus, in this camp there were some female cadets as well, so the JCO’s in charge decided that the loos were for the exclusive use of the girls (and the only other set of loos were for the officers in camp), and decided that the rest of us could use the nearby fields.
All was well for about three days. On day four, at around 5 am, I returned victoriously from the fields, and settled down to polish my boots, when we heard loud noises. We looked up in the direction of the fields, and there, running for their lives were a group of cadets with their pants in various stages of fastening. Behind them were a group of furious farmers, swinging their wooden staffs and chasing down these cadets with murder in their minds. Apparently, the rampaging hordes of cadets were destroying the sugarcane crop by stomping across the fields and pooping at will. The cadets survived, and escaped the beating of their lives, thanks to the intervention of some intrepid army jawans, but needless to say, alternate toilet arrangements had to be made. So, we used the fields on the other side of the camp, which were owned by some large landlord who rarely visited the fields.
After my stint in the NCC in high school, I decided I would never be stupid enough to sign up again. But my college had other ideas. For some reason (I think it was something about building character in all students) in our first year of college we had to be a part of either the NCC, or the NSO (sports authority) or the NSS (national service scheme). Unfortunately, I was told that to be a part of the NSO one had to have played some sport at the district or state level. That I had done only in fantasy, so that was out. The NSS was out because we had to know how to read and write Tamil fluently (except that I later found out the fluently part was flexible). So I ended up in the NCC again (for just one year), and had to go for yet another training camp.
This time the camp was held in a small village school in some tiny town 50 odd kilometers from Madras, which had a “famous temple” (that’s not saying much since every village in Tamil Nadu with a population of over 5 people has a “famous temple”). This school was still in partial construction, and so, unsurprisingly did not have loos. The buildings were strategically located far from the village, with a barren hill right behind it. So, by default (since the LB’s in charge decided they didn’t even want to dig three trenches), the mountain became our potty of choice.
We might have been students of engineering colleges, but we weren’t to bright (either that, or we were just so used to the comfort of our nasty dorm loos that we couldn’t think straight). The first couple of days went off fine, but with the start of day three two new problems emerged. We had taken the easy option early in the morning (it is hard going out for a poop with a torch in hand), and so had pooped at the base of the mountain. That was fine for the first two days, but by day three there wasn’t a safe, clean spot at the base of the mountain to poop in, thanks to a few hundred restless bowels. Hiking through the mess in the dark was out of the question. We should have started at the top of the mountain and worked our way down, but we were too stupid for that (either that or our bowels wouldn’t hold that far). The remaining week was spent in misery amidst a howling stench. So much so that our ordeals were immortalized in song, and the lyrics of a popular Tamil and Telugu chartbuster at the time (from a movie called Ratchagan) which went “Sonia, Sonia sokkavikum Sonia…” was altered to “Poniya, poniya, inniku poniya….” (sorry, a translation won’t work).
I lived to tell this tale.
What’s the moral of this story? Nothing. Except that I strongly advocate the principles of leaving no trace while camping, and recommend the use of well dug cat-holes while backpacking.