Friday, September 7, 2012

The crap that matters

If you live in India, the times might seem a little depressing. Every day, you watch or read something in the news that makes you depressed. You worry about the economic health of the country, or about the sanctity of various institutions that you have come to respect over the years. You worry about the government and democracy, that you might think have stopped working for you. And, you worry about the future.

These are indeed difficult times. I have been using the phrase "oh crap" so often in the recent past, that I have stopped wondering if it is the right thing to say in public. And recently, while reading an article about the proliferation of public toilets in developing countries, I came across the name of  Mr.Thomas Crapper. And that,  made me do a little research on crap -- and Mr. Crapper.

Apparently, Mr. Crapper, a plumber by trade, was one of the few enlightened individuals at the turn of the nineteenth century, who dared to look at places that others would not even dream about. He made several improvements to the flush toilet and the plumbing around it, and took out several patents.  He ran a very successful business, creating products that let people enjoy the peace and quiet as they -- you got it right -- crapped.

People believe that Mr. Crapper's name became synonymous with the bodily function we all need to perform. And eventually, he became immortalized in a four letter word, that we all have learned to use -- generally, to avoid using the other ones that raise a few eyebrows. In public.

Strangely, and contrary to popular wisdom, I found that Mr. Crapper's name does not have anything to do with the word crap. Apparently, its origins are in medieval English, as any well versed researcher in the linguistics of crap would tell you. But then, that is an entirely different discussion to have. What matters is the fact that had it not been for the inventions of Mr. Crapper, our cities would look a lot different from what they do today. And every day, you would have to deal with loads of crap that you would rather not.


Recently, while I was telling Dhanno ki Amma about the modern marvel of the flush toilet and its plumbing, I  started singing paeans to Mr. Crapper. And she floored me with information about another modern marvel that has saved us from loads of crap. Of a different kind.

I am guessing that you have heard about horse-manure.

I often heard that word from my fifth-grade English teacher when he passed critical judgement on what I had written. But, right around the time that Mr. Thomas Crapper was solving a problem that mattered, there was another on the streets of London and New York, which threatened world peace and stability.

Before the automobile, there were horses. Thousands of them. And when they came out of the stables that housed them, they dirtied the streets of big cities with manure. Things were so bad, that people were knee deep in horse-crap. Literally and figuratively. And the predictors of doom and gloom had predicted their doom and gloom. Apparently, the world was to be submerged in loads of crap. Horse-crap to be precise.

And right from this point of no return,  the automobile industry rescued us. Horses, were replaced by cars galore. And the horse manure went back to where it belonged -- the stable.   

That day, Dhanno ki Amma, in her matter of fact way, gave me an important life lesson by telling me about the horse manure crisis. When we reach a point of crisis, sometimes, of gigantic proportions, we usually innovate our way out of it. So, perhaps Henry Ford and his mass produced model-T, saved the world from as much crap, as Mr. Thomas Crapper did.

While standing knee deep in a lot of crap that I am seeing on a daily basis, I keep wondering, what innovation is going to get us out this time. As I remain optimistic that someone will surely invent something to fix the broken world that we see around us, I keep wondering if we will honor that person by naming a four letter word after him or her. And if we do, I hope that this time around, it will be a word much better than crap.


  1. going to be tough this time to get out of this crap we are in. why only india, whole world is in deep shit. 2012 is coming!!! ;-)

  2. Interesting. I never linked Ford and horse manure before.

    I have been out of India for 20 years now. My parents are always positive about India. Their business is doing really well. Your article seems to hint that things are not so rosy. I would be interested in you thoughts on this difference.

    BTW I enjoy reading your blog.

    1. Thanks for your kind words. I don't think there is anything fundamentally wrong with India. Our people work very hard, and are industrious in nature. The private sector is a glowing example of that. Our government has always "been in the way" of business, and things seem to be getting worse every single day. Like your parents, I am still optimistic about India.