An ode to the commodeA technological marvel, the commode is believed to have been invented in the 1590s. I am not sure when it came to Nepal.
A technological marvel, the commode is believed to have been invented in the 1590s. I am not sure when it came to Nepal. Jung Bahadur Rana may have imported it after his visit to Britain in 1850 and the other Rana rulers and aristocrats may have followed suit, but I don’t think it found its pride of place in the homes of common Nepalis before the 1970s.
I first saw a commode in Thulo Buwa’s house. When I wanted to poo, I was directed to the loo. Inside it, there was a bowl-shaped, sky-blue contraption with two circular plates of the same colour—one hollowed out, the other not—attached to it, leaning against a match box-like container with a knob. I didn’t even know the names of these contraptions, much less how to use them.
I first looked at the funnel shaped contraption and then the box above it, trying to figure out what they were and then tweaked the knob. The water gurgled down the inside rim of what I later found out was called a commode. For a second, I was worried that I might have done something wrong, but after mulling over it for some time, I reached the conclusion that the knob must be a device to flush out excrement and the commode must be where one empties one’s bowels. If so, I asked myself, how does one poo? Sitting? Or squatting on the commode?
The toilet seat and cover were put upright, so I didn’t realise that one had to pull the seat down onto the rim of the bowl and sit on it. The rim was wet, probably with pee as a result of misjudged aim. Since it was too disgusting to sit on a rim wet with pee, I climbed on the commode and pooed while squatting. That was quite an athletic feat, squatting on the commode. No surprise that I nearly had cramps. And when I got out of the john, my bowels were relieved but my legs were still shaking from perching on the rim. I wondered why people had commodes and not squat toilets like we did at home.
But soon I learnt the right way to use the commode, which quickly dispelled my dislike for it. And as soon as a commode arrived at home, I took to it as a child would take to cartoons. This was not without reason.
The commode is far more comfortable than the squat toilet. And it is quite a relief to have a commode at home when you are ill and too weak to stand on your legs, let alone squat. Ditto when you have constipation and you have to sit on the toilet for ages, grunting to pump out rock-hard stool. Or when you have severe loose motion and want to wait out the diarrhoea sitting on the commode rather running in and out of the toilet. It is precisely because of the comfort the commode provides that most of us spend more time in the toilet then is actually necessary, reading the day’s newspapers, or getting news updates on our mobile, or tweeting about the country’s political developments.
But every good thing has its downside, and the commode is not an exception. As far as I am concerned, the commode has two disadvantages. First, the commode seat gets really cold in the winter and sitting on it is akin to steeling yourself to take a dip in icy water. But if you can cough up a little extra money, you can have a seat that heats itself.
Second is the use of toilet paper. You cannot get off the commode and wash your backside with water—something we have been doing since we were kids with squat toilets—because that would mean littering the bathroom floor with excrement (icky!). That was perhaps why the toilet paper was invented, to wipe off our bottom without soiling the bathroom floor. But toilet paper is a complete waste—and not just of money—because you cannot wipe your bottom clean with it.
Fortunately, if you don’t like using toilet paper like me, you can either have a standalone bidet (which is impractical as it takes up space) or a bidet shower or bum gun installed on the wall near the commode. The bidet shower is quite good actually, as you don’t have to use your hand to wash your bottom. All you have to do is take the trigger nozzle off the holder, bring it down between your thighs and aim it at your bottom, and it will be spanking clean! If you don’t want to take even that much trouble, then you can have a commode with an inbuilt bidet which cleans your backside on its own. If you are rich, you can have an even fancier electric commode, which will enable you to control the presser, temperature and the direction of the water coming out of the bidet!
No wonder, I am fascinated by the commode.
- Baral is a writer and co-founder of FinePrint, a publishing company