Privy Place Minions

The Shankaracharya is quite worried that there would be no one to clean up public places, if Dalits were to take up white-collar jobs. Most people brought up in towns and cities in the post-independence era may not be able to appreciate the Seer's anxiety on this score. For they are not privy to the then familiar sight of 'night soil' carriers and barring the shanties, most dwelling today have a built-in lavatory in the building itself, if not attached to every bedroom, as in the houses of the affluent.

But I do remember the times when things were quite different. Mangaloreans today may be shacked to learn that there were days when the most elite of houses in Mangalore did not have a lavatory attached. The house premises were sacrosanct, meant only for living in, dining and resting and cleaning oneself, with at best a bathroom facility available . But never a place for relieving oneself anywhere within the walls of the abode, considered a sanctorum.

The lavatory would be at the far end of one's compound, mostly to the rear of the house, with a wicket-gate access available for the municipality thoti who arrived daily to clean up and carry away the night soil in his balti.

All this was before septic tanks were introduced. The menial ensured manually the disposal of human excrement a crucial drill for society as it existed then.

Thanks to Gandhiji showing the 'way' and then the law-makers enacting laws against such human exploitation and banning the carrying of 'night-soil' , these societal ills have disappeared from normal view; though, like in the case of all reformatory social legislation, there are instances and reports of violation and aberrations galore in many parts of the country. But no reform can succeed fully with out a change in the mindset of the people, which is something of a tall order.

Talking of attitudes, one often wonders why one needs class IV employees and sweepers at all, especially in officers and public establishments to do the sweeping and the cleaning. And then the compartmentalisation in duties and responsibilities to be attended to, evolved among each rung of such minions, often leaves one's mental balances a little wonky, inability to overcome their cussedness on change their attitude.

Take for instance the cook at home fetching you your cup of tea. He may stumble over bits of paper and the previous night's party remnants scattered all over the floor obstructing his path, but would not lift a finger to pick up the offending things-because it is the sweeper's job.

And remain, the dirt will, at the very site, giving you a sore eye, till either the sweeper arrives, or you yourself pick up a broom to sweep it off.

Which takes me to what happens in this regard, abroad. No menials there I am afraid, nor minions to pander to your whims and fancies or tolerate your nawabiyat. Self-help is something that you graduate to in no time, whether it be at washing your own cup and plate or sparkling the commode in the toilet.

But back home in our own land that is steeped in servile culture that is, to service and be served, -it would be an uphill task to get people to fight against their dependence on servants, or menials. May be the media blitz that creates a scare in town each time a servant-related crime is reported, would motivate people away from this servant culture. The servants, along with the Dalits, could then also vie for white collar jobs-acharyas or no acharyas.

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