The Popularity of Podro (Poop)
Walking along the dirt road in the village of Jhiri with my new friend (and host-father) Kalubhai, I look at my surroundings: rolling hills blanketed by green pastures, dotted with the fluorescent headdresses that give the Indian state of Rajasthan its technicolored reputation. As I take a mental picture, I hear a soft “splat.” I feel a warm sensation tickling the bottom of my feet and creeping around my ankles. I had stepped in pure, freshly made, 100% authentic, cow poop. As I frantically searched for water with which I could clean my feet, Kalubhai flashes me a smile and says stop. Bending over, he carefully wipes the fecal matter off my feet, and combining it with the remaining pattie on the ground, scoops it up into his hands and continues walking ahead. Mouth agape and feet still feeling tainted by dung, I follow Kalubhai with disgusted fascination, unaware of the potential that was currently resting in his hands.
I never understood Indians’ infatuation with poop. It seems everywhere you go, people want to know about poop – cow poop, your poop, you name it. Even my mom is a fan of it, citing the argument “What’s wrong with it? It’s natural”…naturally disgusting, if you ask me. I never realized why it wasn’t taboo, at least until I came to India, the land of popular poop. It was not until I lived in the house of Kalubhai and slept next to his three water buffalo that I really understood its important. Every morning, after clearing my own digestive tract in the same wide-open rolling hills that I strolled about, Kalubhai and I would go out and collect the poop that our water buffaloes had gifted us. I say “gifted” because it served too many purposes, it was the fuel to the fire that we cooked with each night, the fertilizer that we farmed with, the glue that held the clay hut together, and a blessing from the gods above. My own poop was also a big deal, as beaming villagers would ask me upon my return from the outdoor toilet “Tutti complete [Poop complete?].” Even when I became sick, the villagers diagnosed my illness by inspecting nothing else but my number two.
If there is one thing that I have learned while living in India, it is that there is much more than meets the eye. In a land of a billion, it is easy for one’s perspective to get clouded. What may seem strange and foreign to one is commonplace to another, as even the notion of “huh?” translates literally into “yes” in Hindi. Confusion seems natural. Through the glasses I had acquired by living in the village of Kalubhai and in India, I was afforded a new take on what was going on around me. I began to realize the history, practicality, and thought that was behind the perceived strangeness. Suddenly, an infatuation with fecal matter became clear, and at times, agreeable.
As humans, we have a natural tendency to draw conclusions. We observe, we consider, and we conclude. But after conclusion, the cycle stops. Things that we deem strange, under-developed, even stinky, are hard to see in any other light. Perhaps worse, we are quick to find ways to “fix the problem,” under the justification that we have some sort of moral or civic responsibility to do so. But the responsibility should instead be to re-observe and to reconsider. It is in the reconsideration that we find great use, and in some instances, popularity.
So next time you find you have stepped in a pile of cow dung, don’t look around for the nearest hose: bend over, pick it up, and walk along, all the while considering the potential that is currently resting in your hands.
– Rikin Tank, 2009 Indicorps Fellow