Govind Mohite, his wife, two sons and a daughter all dread the prospect of walking towards the loo in the Panchsheel Nagar BMC safai karamcharis’ colony. Since its construction in 1951, the building has never had a water pipeline in any of the toilets.
“Every morning, the labourers have to give an oral attendance. This means being physically present at their respective street offices 15 minutes before sunrise,” Mohite says. This means the queue for the loo begins around 4 am, since every household has the same drill. As the toilets don’t have water, whoever arrives first is luckier than others, or whoever has sourced water could be luckier.
The common toilets stand at the corner of each floor and the corridors are littered with garbage. Men speak of holding the toilet door with one hand, an eye on the unsteady roof. The women don’t want to speak at all, unwilling to share tales of rat bites for those who try to take advantage of the relatively empty toilet block at night. The urinals — all of whose doors are unhinged — have no water connection either.
Most are choked with vomit on the floor outside. “Some people are still to adjust, children take months,” explains Mohite’s wife Ratanmala, 48, adding that womenfolk hold their bladder in the mornings until the men have finished their business.
‘Standing in queue, Waiting breaks you’
Ratanmala’s son Vivek is 26, a clerical staffer in a private company. Vivek recalls childhood evenings on the terrace of his building, his eyes on the smooth red dome of the Hotel Taj Mahal Palace, distracted by the string of a dropping kite. Then he’d walk down to his first-floor home and be jolted back to reality.
“The stench from the corner loo on each floor killed me. I was never happy,” he recalls. “Boys my age, we lose our arrogance. Standing in a loo queue waiting for your turn breaks you. We live the stench through the day, every waking hour, even kilometers away from the loo.” And of course, the Mohites and others never invited anyone home.
Opposite the Mohites’ home lives Kunjali More, 32. Her husband is a garbage loader who picks garbage from dumps and pushes it into trucks. Kunjali was 17, a new bride, when she came to Panchsheel. On October 2 when Prime Minister Narendra Modi wielded a broom to kickstart the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, she was in Bombay Hospital frantically pulling out her savings to nurse her two sons who had contracted dengue.
“They later came to inspect breeding spots and said there are none here. We have 22 persons suffering from dengue since October,” she points out.
Another resident adds that during 26/11, when terrorists took over Nariman House in Colaba, this colony went without water for four days as no water tanker could enter. “We heard gunshots but worse, we were stuck, over 1,000 people here with no water, and our loos stuffed with shit,” the resident says.
They spend about Rs 100 per day, per household, on tankers. “That’s too much money daily, no? My savings after seven months was Rs 5000 which I spent on dengue treatment,” Kunjali says. Her uncle is a caretaker at RBI quarters in Mahim who amazes her with tales of dustbin bags supplied to residents. He also fixes their light-bulbs occasionally. None of the toilets in Panchsheel have light bulbs. At night women must hold their bladders, Kunjali explains. It’s just not safe – there are rats and hooligans. “It’s like we live in some other world, unknown to the rest.”
A Stench Like A Stubborn Shadow
Above Kunjali More, on the second floor stays Prajakta Pawar, 35. She says she was born here and fell in love here, going on to marry a neighbor from the floor above. Through the years, stench has remained a constant “…the unbearable stench. It’s like a shadow. It refuses to leave us,” she says.
At a meeting this month, she suggested that some of the common bathrooms be converted into common toilets, with water pipelines fitted and septic infrastructure improved. “Will you believe it if I tell you BMC told us that they don’t have permission from another department because roads have to be dug to lay water lines? How ridiculous! BMC not getting permission from BMC for laying pipes to fulfill our basic needs?”
Prajakta recalls washrooms alongside the toilets, given specifically to women. “We would use the bathrooms during days of menstruation, when we had to stay outdoors. Over the years, awareness has improved. Now those rooms too are being used for defecating. There is no water there. It’s a really sad state. She recalls seeing rats stuck in the congealed mess. “I tell anyone who is willing to listen to us that we have become one of them.”
In the open ground outside, Atul Kamble, 48, is organising papers after his umpteenth visit to the BMC headquarters, residents queueing up to speak to him, with their demands for water supply, repairing of toilets and at least one Western-style commode in every block for senior citizens. “When the Deputy Municipal Commissioner came to visit, he said he cleans the toilet in his home himself. He asked us why we were making such a big fuss. I wanted to ask him, if he cleans his toilet without water,” asks Kamble. The residents have been told that November 20 is World Toilet Day. Kamble asks: “Forget about the world, can the city or the chief minister hear us?”