Toilet: A Love Story

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The title of the film is:

"Toilet:  ek prem kathā | Toilet: एक प्रेम कथा" ("Toilet:  A Love Story")

It would seem that English "toilet" has been adopted into Hindi, Roman letters and all.  Yet there are plenty of words for privy, latrine, etc. in Indian languages; the one I remember for Nepali is "charpi".

When I tried to look up "charpi", I couldn't find it right away.  If you're not a specialist, it is sometimes a bit daunting to find what you're looking for online or in printed dictionaries, because determining whether a consonant is aspirated or not, whether it is retroflex or not, whether a vowel is long or short, and so forth, requires a keen ear and a good sense of orthography.

I knew that I must distinguish "charpi" from "chhurpi छुर्पी" ("yak milk cheese") and a number of other similarly sounding words, but I still couldn't find it.  Finally, I located it in Ruth Laila Schmidt's A Practical Dictionary of Modern Nepali:

1) चपीर् (p. 211) capīr , pr. carpi, NOM. latrine, toilet. (Note: used in rural areas only; in urban areas the term is considered uncouth and the loan word baatharuma is used.) —See also बाथरुम baatharuma.

That's one thing that makes learning languages difficult, when the dictionary entry is quite different from what people actually say.

The charpi where I lived in Bhojupur, Nepal was very simple.  I simply squatted over the edge of a terraced field behind the house.  The pigs in the sty below were waiting for their predigested meal.  An advantage of this arrangement is that I could examine my stool as it went downward to see what nonmicroscopic parasites were present if I needed to inspect it on the fly, so to speak.

My charpi was rather fancy, because it had simple woven split bamboo mats on all four sides so people couldn't watch me doing my business, and also a mat on top for a roof that kept me from getting drenched when it rained.

While far from being a luxurious commode, my charpi was superior to what most people in South Asia use:  open fields, bushes, and shrubs.

I shall never forget the uncanny experience of riding on Indian trains, especially in the morning, and — upon looking out the window — seeing hundreds of moons down low near the ground shining in my face.  Occasionally, some of the people squatting in the fields would look casually over their shoulder at the train as it trundled along.

Open defecation has many disadvantages, including spreading disease and leading to rape.  There are still more than a billion people on earth who do it daily.  At all levels, the Indian government is making a determined effort to eradicate open defecation.  One way is to build toilets with running water in convenient locations, as shown in the following video, which is one of my all-time favorites:

"How to use Eastern Latrine: Wilbur Sargunaraj" (8/8/10) — over two million views, a real classic; covers all facets of latrine usage in India, including terminology; must watch (and practice listening to Indian English)!

In India, more people have cell phones than have toilets, as noted in this UN video:

"India – No toilet, no bride" (11/13/13)

You can see from the title that the UN documentary ties right in with the theme of "Toilet:  ek prem kathā | Toilet: एक प्रेम कथा" ("Toilet:  A Love Story"), which aside from being a commercially successful Bollywood satirical comedy, also complements the government's attempts to eliminate open defecation.

The approach of the Chinese Communist Party in the People's Republic of China is altogether different, as we have already seen in this long-running Language Log post (see especially the last comment):

"Toilet Revolution!!" (11/26/17)

[h.t. Jim Fanell; thanks to Sunny Jhutti]


  1. Victor Mair said,

    September 1, 2018 @ 4:08 pm

    "Pooping on the beach in India – vpro Metropolis" (10/23/14) — more than two and a half million views

  2. N said,

    September 1, 2018 @ 4:13 pm

    Note that the Wikipedia article for this movie has the name transliterated as टॉयलेट ( and an NDTV article does as well ( The poster almost certainly keeps the word in English to make a visual joke with the letter "O", which looks like a certain component of the privy.

  3. Laura Morland said,

    September 1, 2018 @ 5:01 pm

    Fascinating tale, and I look forward to being among the 3rd million to watch the video you recommend.

    It reminds me of a witty twitter response to the current brouhaha about the four new "Uritrottoirs" [from French "urinate" + "trottoir"=sidewalk], public urinals recently installed in Paris, two of which have been rendered unusable, having been stopped up with cement and defaced with glued-on tampons.

    A person with the screen name @KendjiChirac2A posted the below to Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris, underneath an image of a large red flowerpot:

    Bonjour, @Anne_Hidalgo
    Je suis l'inventeur de #CHILIB, il s'agit d'un pot rouge pour chier en toute liberté dans Paris.
    On peut se rencontrer ? On peut commencer par en poser 100 pour un contrat de 1 million d'EUR par an ?
    Bien cordialement. #Uritrottoir

    [Hello, Anne Hidalgo.
    I am the inventor of #CHILIB [obviously a portmanteau from "chier"="to shit" + "lib", the suffix for Parisian public-use bicycles and (until last month) automobiles],
    it's a red flowerpot for shitting in complete freedom in Paris.

    Can we meet? We could begin by installing 100, for a contract of one million Euros per year?
    Very truly yours. #uritrottoir]

  4. Philip Taylor said,

    September 2, 2018 @ 10:36 am

    Re. Victor's "pooping on the beach", I suspect I am not alone in finding it deeply saddening and very depressing that even in the 21st century huge numbers of people are forced to defæcate in public. I still remember the humiliation I felt when a bout of diarrhœa nearly forced me to use a public toilet in Shanghai — no doors, no privacy at all. I couldn't face the idea, hailed a passing taxi, and asked him to get me back to my accommodation (one of the SISU residences) as quickly as humanly possible.

  5. Victor Mair said,

    September 2, 2018 @ 11:22 am

    @Philip Taylor

    It was likely not only the openness of that public toilet in Shanghai that repelled you, but also the stench and the filth. My wife loved her native country, but when she travelled back there, the one thing that saddened and sickened her most were the public toilets. She had nightmares about them her whole life long.

  6. Victor Mair said,

    September 2, 2018 @ 2:22 pm

    From Herb Rice:

    I throw out another Nepali word list to you:

    A Nepali-German list – nice if read the German. The Devanagari looks really good to me. I think I came upon this same list (Kraemer, University of Heidelberg) in English some time back, but I'm not sure and don't find it at this moment.

    As you know, part of the problem of writing Nepali is that the Nepalis themselves seem to write in various ways, although there is probably a "correct" (Gorkhapatra?) version. Take the s-sound, with one true-s and two type of sh. Since most Nepalis (aside from pandit-types?) pronounce them all with a simple s-sound, one is likely to see various of three possible spellings.

    Or take long-i and short-i . I think I once learned that feminine words ending in I (bahini, didi, swasni) take a long I, whereas masculines (bhai) take a short. (Damn! This Hotmail spell-checker usually doesn't allow me to enter a lower case for "eye=I" as a stand-alone letter. Probably there is an override option somewhere.) The Kraemer (Heidelberg) list shows bahini, didi, swasni, bhai written as I have described for long and short, so I'm convinced, along with other examples, that it is a rather correctly written list – or even an entirely correct list, even there can be such a thing in the world of Nepali word lists.

    Or take Shanti. For Om, shanti, shanti, shanti the final vowel appears short. For a girl's name I'm pretty sure I've seen it written long.

    As for TOILET, put pai-khana on your list. This brings the pai-kukur to mind, those mongrel dogs in Kdu and elsewhere that roam around sniffing everything and will eat any shit that they deem edible. Like the good old black village sungur. No wonder some Hindus deem them unclean. Or like the resourceful chicken – the village intermediary for turning shit into delicious chicken curry. … I didn't find pai-khana and pai-kukur on Schmidt or Kraemer word lists.

    I don't think any one of us escaped the sloppy, gut-wrenching experience with the charpi. or whatever substitute was available at the urgent moment.

  7. Victor Mair said,

    September 2, 2018 @ 2:25 pm

    From Herb Rice:

    As per my last e-mail, "keti" being feminine, the final I should be long. And so it is written in the word list:

    However, in someone else's word list
    "keti" is written short. (See #2 on the list.) In fact, other feminine words on this list (kukurni, pagalni, etc.) appear (presumably "Gorkha Patra" incorrectly?) with final I written short.

    Also: I found the (new) link to Kraemer, University of Heidelberg, Nepali-English Dictionary (instead of Nepali-German). It has 148 pages and possibly flawless (?) Devanagari. Attention given to long/short u as well as i. Also attention to nasalization, joining of consonants, etc. The link is

    With such a long list as Kraemer's how did "charpi" fail to get on?

  8. Victor Mair said,

    September 2, 2018 @ 2:26 pm

    From Herb Rice:

    I decided to ask my Nepali informant on the above subject. He is working right around the corner at a drugstore here in Seattle.

    He did not recognize the odd Devanagari spelling of capir (chapir) found in the Schmidt dictionary. He did confirm carpi (charpi) as correct in spelling and pronunciation (with a short a) for toilet or latrine. On closer look at the Schmidt Dictionary I did see that the capir is pr. (pronounced) carpi. I am highly skeptical, as I generally found 1:1 correspondence between written and spoken Nepali. Did any of us find Nepali written one way and pronounced another way?

    My informant here confirmed paikhana as an alternative to charpi. However, he said he had not heard of pai-kukur, which is in my memory for those Kathmandu street dogs. He is from Tulsipur, Far West. Perhaps they don't have such filth eating dogs there. Or, more likely, they have the dogs but not the Kathmandu appellation. Or maybe I'm wrong about the dogs.

    He then suggested sauchalaya as the fancy term for latrine. I immediately recognized it as the what would be written, say, next to the door of an airport rest room. This word comes from Sanskrit shaucha meaning purity, cleanness, cleanliness. So shauchalay (saucalaya) is "the abode of cleanliness". I wouldn't bet on it to describe the restrooms at KTM airport, unless things have changed for former years. I did find saucalaya in Schmidt but not sauca. Ditto for Kraemer's Nepali-English. But then, sauca (shauca) is Sanskrit, not really Nepali.

    Sorry for the confusion in using Roman letters to express the 3 types of s, sh and the c, ch.

    I think I've more than exhausted this subject and hope not to return to it.

  9. Victor Mair said,

    September 2, 2018 @ 2:28 pm

    From Bill Page:

    We had a charpi in Chautara. It had been built of flagstones and rattan and thatch by Frank and Will, our predecessors. I forget their last names, and may have Frank's name wrong.

    The floor was made of flagstones. To access the hole, you removed the extra flagstone that covered it. The local kids didn't understand that, so they would go in and shit on the floor. We put up a sign in Nepali, "Charpi pohor nagarnus," "Please don't defile the charpi," as I recall.

    It was the only charpi in town. I gather that the Nepalis would go into the fields to shit . Later, in Chitral, Pakistan, the people went into the cornfields. You could tell the importance of every government building by its proximity to a cornfield.

    One local lady used to tie up our charpi every morning when I was waiting outside with my bowels screaming for relief from an early-morning peristaltic rush.

    Now they have a little resort hotel in Chautara with an actual flush toilet. Swanick sent me pictures. Progress is wonderful.

  10. Victor Mair said,

    September 2, 2018 @ 2:33 pm

    From Charles Styron:

    I will leave the Devanagri to all of you (except to say that the spelling originally offered doesn't come out "charpi," as many have noted).

    More the the point–an actual charpi, before and after–a Sam Mygatt Architectural Masterpiece!

    Check out the attached photos.

    When we first arrived in Kathmandu after that salubrious brief sojourn in Calcutta, Sam went to the bazaar.
    He was looking for a porcelain toilet S-trap and white enamel paint, both of which he found.
    When we got to Putlikhet, we found an old site for something (not a charpi) in our back yard and dug it out to about 5 feet deep.
    Sam then obtained a large clay pot and cut it in half delicately with the hacksaw in our tool kit.
    He removed the bottom half, leaving the top and the mouth.
    He then painted it 3 or 4 times with special attention to the mouth of the pot, which later sat on the toilet trap after being inverted.
    We made a platform over the hole and used clay to seal it except for the hole where Sam ingeniously installed the trap.
    The painted bowl–Henry James might have called it "The Golden Bowl" –was placed on top of the trap and sealed and balanced.
    Then a free-standing seat of wood was made directly above the bowl (but not supported by it).
    It did stabilize the bowl laterally, however.

    Then the outhouse was constructed around it all with bamboo, complete with breathing walls, clerestory windows, cloth curtains, a fully operative door with latch, a waterproof roof constructed with biscuit tins, bamboo gutters, and a downspout (that emptied into the charpi pit below).
    The downspout junction was sealed, of course!
    The villagers called it "The Mundir (Hindu temple)" which it was.

    It served us well for two years until about a day or two before our leaving when there were signs of floor rot and eventual structural damage, maybe even failure.
    Hey, Sam didn't have treated lumber!

    We would keep a full bucket of water on hand at all times for flushing, and given the trap, the charpi never smelled at all.
    Our next door neighbor also used to sneak in and use it before dawn.
    He didn't know that we knew, and we never mentioned it to him.
    He was a good friend, of course.

    Sam made other marvelous constructions as well, the most ingenious being a method of collecting a full bucket of water off our slate roof (clear drinking water during the monsoon). It diverted the water into a bucket through bamboo gutters until the bucket was full, and then it disconnected. In other words, it was a contraption with "negative mechanical feedback" that protected the clay floor of the balcony. In the middle of the night, we would often hear the "clunk" of the contraption disconnecting after the bucket was full. After disconnection, the water off the roof went into the street. (A more detailed description of this marvelous Rube Goldberg device was offered at our Reunion in Oregon a while back.)

  11. Victor Mair said,

    September 3, 2018 @ 9:53 am

    From Brian Cooke:

    This is sort of a charpi tale: ours was way down behind and below the house. Badgley and I lived most of the time up on the 2nd floor of our dhera, which had an open back terrace with a fine panoramic view out to the west (towards Dharan), and small water spouts leading off the balcony. So we were up high. When we had to pee Badge and I would get lazy (it was a long way down to the charpi in back) so we'd just pee off the balcony, using one of the convenient little spouts.

    Our landlord's house was right next to ours, and little Bhusan (I think he was 4) would often stand out on their balcony peering right over at us. He was a favorite of mine. But one day I peed and I heard Bhusan's gay little voice ringing out into the neighborhood: "Bijuli Prasad muthio! Bijuli Prasad muthio!" "Bhusan, chup lag!" I shouted in a hoarse whisper – but the little tyke went on.

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