100 Days in India Project

Dog in India sleeping in front of an old sign that reads 'dinner'

30/ 100 Rooftop Toilet

Once we had been given the tour of the downstairs part of Tuk Tuk driver Gaffar’s house, where he lived with his extended family, we were taken to the roof to see his pride and joy. We had no idea what we would find up there, but he was very excited to show us his big surprise. It was obviously a big deal for him since he hadn’t stopped talking about the ‘surprise on the roof’ since we got in his taxi that morning. Whatever object that was perched in the blazing sunshine, up several flights of steps, he told us it elevated his household status well above that of his neighbours.

Remember that this was India. Things that you would never expect to see on a roof at home could, realistically, very well be up there. An elephant, a 20 metre high golden statue of Parvati, a man selling chai tea, a bathtub filled with sacred water (and human cremains) from the river Ganges. All of these were perfectly plausible possibilities.

We climbed the narrow staircase, inlaid with the precariously shiny and sharp-edged floor tiles they love so much in India. The sort of tiles that would be lethal here in Britain when we have to walk around with our wet feet every day. With some apprehension it has to be said, we emerged from the darkness into the blinding ultra-white concrete plaza that was his rooftop. To our right was the minaret of the nearby mosque (where Gaffar should have been for prayers, but where he sent his wife in his absence), to our left were the distant high-rise buildings of Agra and, in front of us, was Gaffar’s newest addition to his house. The object of all of his excitement. It was a rooftop toilet. 

A cubic concrete block monolith, almost exactly the same width and depth as the toilet bowl it contained, with a tin roof that was about 30cm too low for me to stand up in. It appeared to just have been built in a random spot on his roof terrace and to this day I am not certain that it was plumbed in to, well, anything. I really had to use it which only delighted him even more.

The only positive thing I can say was that it was very clean (although I am not sure whether it had actually ever been used before). I couldn’t close the door because my knees stuck out too far and being inside it reminded me of an old war movie. One of the ones where they locked prisoners in a sweat box as torture. I expect the 100’C temperature kept the pathogens at bay at least. Still, it was a very long way away from the worst toilet I had ever used and I was very grateful for it. With enormous hesitancy I flushed when I left, and prayed that the outlet led to some kind of sewer.