"Wayside Chapel" or "Water Closet" ? - A funny story

A story about the "WC" as meant by a British woman intending to travel to India, and as understood by her probable Indian host.
26 Nov 2009
0 mins read

The special track on Sanitation today was the best part of the whole series of sessions. Insightful and sometimes funny, like this one. Here is a story about the "WC" as meant by a british woman intending to travel to india, and as understood by her probable indian host.

This story is from Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak's (of Sulabh Sanitation and Social Reform Movement) presentation. He had a large set of slides to show, and I would highly suggest you to download it from here . It is the story of action against one of the most significant and stigmatic social issues of modern India. And about the rise of a sanitation movement which is serving society better than the best government interventions towards this.

Now, here's the story:


No public places like railway stations,bus stands, religious and tourist places had the facilities of public toilet complexes. Foreigners used to get discouraged to visit India. A letter written by a British woman to a local school master in India which is as follows expresses the position vividly:

In the days when you could not count on a public toilet facility, an English woman was planning a trip to India – She registered to stay in a small guest house owned by the local schoolmaster. She was concerned as to whether the guest house contained a WC (Water Closet). She wrote to the schoolmaster inquiring of the facilities about the WC. The school master, not fluent in English asked the local priest if he knew the meaning of WC. Together they pondered possible meanings of the letters and concluded that the lady wanted to know if there was a “Wayside Chapel” near the house. That the letters could mean a bathroom, never entered their minds. So the schoolmaster wrote:

I take great pleasure in informing you that the WC is located 9 miles from the house. It is located in the middle of a grove of pine trees, surrounded by lovely grounds. It is capable of holding 229 people and is open on Sundays and Thursdays. As there are many people expected in the summer months, I suggest you arrive early. There is, however, plenty of standing room. This is an unfortunate situation especially if you are in the habit of going regularly. It may be of some interest to you that my daughter was married in the WC, since she met her husband there. It was a wonderful event. There were 10 people in every seat. It was wonderful to see the expressions on their faces. My wife, sadly, has been ill and unable to go recently. It has been almost a year since she went last, which pains her greatly. You will be pleased to know that many people bring their lunch and make a day of it.

Others prefer to wait till the last minute and arrive just in time! I would recommend that your ladyship plan to go on a Thursday, as there is an organ accompaniment. The acoustics are excellent and even the most delicate sounds can be heard everywhere. The newest addition is a bell which rings every time a person enters. We are holding a bazaar to provide plush seats for all since many feel it is long needed. I look forward to escorting you there myself and seating you in a place where you can be seen by all.

With deepest regards,
The Schoolmaster.”

No wonder the woman never visited India!!!

Do visit the Museum of Toilets website too, for a glimpse of toilet designs from down the ages.

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