A job you wouldn’t want to do

Do you hate your job? Is it boring or unchallenging? Do you feel like crying every time you see your paycheck? Before you complain too loudly, think about all those people, millions of them, who do jobs that are far worse than yours — and I’m not talking about the ones who flip burgers for a living. Flipping burgers is a great job, especially compared to picking up poop. No, I’m not referring to dog owners. I’m referring to the 800,000 low-caste toilet cleaners in India.

In the rainy season,’ the woman began, ‘it is really bad.
Water mixes with the shit and when we carry it (on our heads) it drips from the
baskets, on to our clothes, our bodies, our faces. When I return home I find it
difficult to eat food sometimes. The smell never gets out of my clothes, my
hair. But this is our fate. To feed my children I have no option but to do this

Naravanamma began cleaning human excrement at 13. She is now
35. The stench is nauseating, overpowering. First, she sweeps the shit into
piles. Then, using two flat pieces of tin, she scoops it up and drops it into a
bamboo basket which she carries to a spot where a tractor will arrive to pick
it up. No gloves. No water to wash with. She hitches up her sari tightly so
that it does not trail on the ground or touch the shit. Still, it is almost
impossible to go through a whole day’s work without some of it inadvertently
getting onto her clothes and person.

After 20-odd years of cleaning toilets, Naravanamma clings
to a dignity which is markedly at variance with the work she does. She is
dressed neatly, immaculately clean. Jasmine adorns her oiled and well-groomed

I’ve put Naravanamma’s quote on my desktop to remind myself that I should never complain about my job. And I should save my admiration, not for Jennifer Aniston and 50 Cent, but for people like her.

If you enjoyed this piece, you'll love Melvin's novel Bala Takes the Plunge, available in North America through Amazon.com and McNallyRobinson.com You can also find it at major bookstores in India and Sri Lanka or online at FlipKart, IndiaPlaza, FriendsofBooks or other sites. A number of readers have written reviews of the novel. An excerpt of the novel can be read here.

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