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Monday, November 28, 2005


My parents live in a very nice part of Calcutta. New Alipore is one of the posher areas - pretty houses and tree-lined lanes. If you enter some of the inner lanes anytime apart from the rush hours, you will find them quite peaceful and deserted - remarkable for Calcutta. The reasons are not far to seek, either. Rich kids don't play on the streets. They have large houses with spacious lawns. If the lawn is not big enough to lay out a cricket pitch, then there are always corridors, terraces, or - at a pinch - drawing rooms.

So come evening - when the weather is pleasant, and the setting sun tints everything in orange hues - and you would think that a brisk evening walk would be in order - clear the head, get some exercise and return in time for a bracing cup of tea.

If you thought that, you would be wrong.

There is a fly in this ointment.


Yes - I mean shit. Faeces, excrement - take your pick. Shit by any other name smells just as bad.

The roads of New Alipore are caked in shit. Fresh, moist shit. Ancient, fossilised shit. Lumpy shit. Melted shit. Coagulated shit. Spattered shit. Neat little piles of shit. Buzzing-over-with-flies shit. Tyre-tread-patterned shit. Pristine white shit. Sienna shit. Ochre shit. You name it - we've got it.

Venture sometime, if you will, into the bowels of some of Calcutta's most wretched slums. There too, you will see shit layering the ground. But that is human shit. It is the shit of people who have never seen a water closet in their lives. People who really have no choice in the matter. It is very different from the shit in my part of town.

You see, we deal strictly in animal shit. Birds, dogs, cats and the occasional monkey. Ours is pedigreed shit. Imported foreign shit. There is Great Danish shit, Alsatian shit and Doberman shit. Shit spewed by animals worth their weight in gold. Their owners must believe that even the shit of these fine creatures is worth some sizable amount in foreign exchange. Even if it isn't, its no shit on their brogues. The task of sidestepping their animals undigested waste is left to menials who are hired for that task alone.

In the United States, it is a criminal offense to let your pet soil the sidewalks. Pet owners walk around with little trowels and bags, cleaning up after their animals.

It would seem that our shit, unlike theirs, smells of roses. At least it doesn't stink of poverty.

Paper Idea No. 1 - A Study in Excrement: On the Inverse relation between property prices and position on the food chain of roadside defecators.