Saturday, May 24, 2008

An event that left its indelible foot print in the sands of time: The train toilet


Dear Friends,

It is indeed true that often great changes are brought about by the striving of some dedicated people. I recently received an email from an Indian friend informing on how toilets were introduced in trains in the Indian subcontinent.


But before I begin I must start with a brief introduction. I did a bit of research on this story. It is based in the province of Bengal which now in India and Bangladesh (Fig 1). This province is very fertile and has a wide variety of flora and fauna.

The Jack fruit (Figure 2) seems to be an important diet for the people of this province. More about Jack fruit from wikipedia:

The Jack fruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus) is a species of tree of the mulberry family (Moraceae) and its fruit, native to southwestern India, Bangladesh, Philippines and Sri Lanka, and possibly also east to the Malay Peninsula, though more likely an early human introduction there. It is well suited to tropical lowlands. It is commercially grown and sold in these countries, as well as imported around Australia. The English name jack fruit, one of many for the fruit, derives from Portuguese jaca, which is derived from Malayalam chakka.


Importantly jack fruit seems to have high fibre content and hence it can act as an high fibre laxative.

The people living in the province of Bengal are called "Bengalis". The educated people are often honourably referred to as "Bengali babu". Figure 3 shows a drawing of a Bengali babu. The different parts of his attire have been labelled by me to the best of my knowledge. "Dhoti" the lower half of the garment worn by the Bengali babu has relevance to this story.

It seems that toilets were introduced on Indian trains only after this passenger, notably a Bengali babu (for example, like the one shown in Figure 3) Okhit Chandra Sen, wrote a letter to the Divisional Traffic Superintendent Sahabgunj Divisional Office, in 1909, complaining about how he missed the train when he got down to attend the call of nature. This happened because of an excess consumption of Jack fruit. The events that followed made him unfortunately loose his dhoti and regretfully expose himself ! This letter, sent as a complaint, documents the unfortunate chain of events:


Beloved Sir,

I am arrive by passenger train at Ahmedpore station and my belly istoo much swelling with jackfruit.

I am therefore sent to privy. Just as I am doing the nuisance that guard making whistle blow for train to go off and I am running with Lota (water pot) in one hand and dhoti in the next when I fall over and expose all my shockings to many female women on the platform

I got leaved on Ahmedpore Station.

This is too much bad for passengers go to make dung that dam guard not wait train for five minutes for him.

I am therefore praying otherwise I am making big report to papers.

Pray your honour to make big fine on that dam guard for public sake otherwise I am making big report to papers.

Yours faithfull servant

Okhil Ch Sen


It seems the letter fell into the right hands bringing great relief to the people in the Indian subcontinent.


Thank you

Rehman of Multan



1.Train picture from

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