By Kaushal Mathpal
Did it ever strike your mind that a place that relieves you of your tensions every morning has a long-drawn history behind it? Have you ever wondered who invented the toilet flush that dissipates your bodily waste with a gentle push? Do not feel guilty. It’s my strong belief that no one ever pondered these questions or similar ones before the opening of the Sulabh International Museum of Toilets in New Delhi. One of a kind, it officially opened to the public in 1994.
Among the world's top 10 “Weird and Unusual Museums”, the museum proudly exhibits the gradual evolution of toilets from the squat type to present-day fancy lavatories. It is an initiative promoted by Sulabh International Social Service Organization, a pioneer social group working in the areas of sanitation and hygiene in India.
As I entered the museum, I was greeted by the guide Varun who in a short and musical manner (his voice sounded rather musical) hurriedly covered the span of thousands of years in a couple of minutes. After this short tour, heavy on information, I was left to myself to explore the history of toilets.
On my exploration of the museum, I discovered that the Harappan Civilization pioneered the creation of toilets, contrary to my earlier view that credited the Europeans for it. It is also believed that pathetic sanitary conditions were mainly responsible for one of biggest epidemics of all time, i.e. “Black Death” in Europe, which wiped out nearly half of its population. I also became aware of the fact that the inventor of the flush, John Harrington, ended his career with this invention because he was ridiculed among his peers for this absurd device. All of the above interesting facts are displayed on the walls of the museum along with many more quick snippets of “toiletry” facts, the Aryan Code of Toilets, funny anecdotes, humorous quotes and pictures relating to toilets spanning across different eras. One can spend hours in this museum edified by the history of toilets.
The museum also showcases replicas of different types of lavatories used across the globe in different times. The gem among these is a commode shaped in form of a throne purported to be used by the French King Louis XIII who, per a hilarious anecdote, is believed to have defecated while holding court proceedings to save time (quite a workaholic!).
Besides these, one can find numerous other interesting and amusing replicas, including a two-level toilet used in the USA with the upper one for management and the lower one for employees, bookcase toilets (commodes in the shape of a bookcase) spitefully named after famous English writers and poets, table-top toilets (lift the top to ease yourself and drop down to use as a normal table), beautifully decorated porcelain toilets, etc.
The modern ones on display include solar toilets, Port-A-Potty toilets (for picnics), electric toilets, biodegradable toilets used in expeditions and treks, and the vacuum one used by NASA in space flights (only a photo is available as this is the most expensive toilet at a whopping $19 million). Though two decades have passed since the formal inaugural of the museum, it still remains unplumbed among the citizens and does not have much visitors to appreciate its existence. The guide Varun apprised me that the museum caters to a maximum of 10-12 visitors per day approximately and on lucky days they might expect school trips and college groups.
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Address: Sulabh International Museum of Toilets, Sulabh Bhawan, Palam Dabri Marg, Mahavir Enclave, Palam, New Delhi, India. Phone: 011-25031518. Website>>
Kaushal Mathpal is a practising advocate who enjoys travelling. He pens his thoughts at his blog, Rediscover Your Dreams