What to do

I’m squatting on the backs of my legs, pants down around my ankles, and defecating in the forested area out behind the back of a slum on the edge of Bangalore. It’s a Monday evening and I’ve been visiting with a couple of golf caddies whose lives I’ve been tracking and writing about. (More on this research here.) One of them, whom I’ll call Ganesh, has provided me with a plastic bucket full of water to aid with the clean up. He’s also given me a pair of chappals, or sandals—they’re two or three sizes too small for my feet, but I appreciate them, nonetheless, given the bumpy terrain. 

It’s dark, and somewhat peaceful, I suppose. Maybe too peaceful, as if this area isn’t worthy of the kind of development on view elsewhere in the city. Just a few hundred yards away, blocked by a line of trees, sits the Embassy Golf Links Technology Park, home to IBM, Microsoft, Goldman Sachs, and other giants of global capital, and adjacent to them, the Karnataka Golf Association, or KGA, one of the most exclusive golf clubs in all of India. All are equipped, for sure, with running water and toilets. Not out this way, though. At least IBM, Microsoft, and the rest light up the night sky, making it easier for me to find my way to Ganesh once I’m done with my business. He’s been waiting patiently by the narrow lane that connects his house to this otherwise empty field beyond.

I follow Ganesh to the front of his house, where there’s another bucket of water he’s prepared for me. He shakes off his own chappals to show me what to do. Like this, he says, certain that I need an explanation. He pours water down his legs and rubs together the soles of his bare feet. I do the same, washing away the dirt and whatever else I’ve picked up in the last few minutes. His wife has now appeared, too, handing me a bar of soap. 

A friend of Ganesh’s, another caddy, is standing a few feet off to the side. He can’t help but laugh at the sight of this tall white man newly inaugurated into the practice of relieving himself in the open, and in the dark, no less. I can’t blame him. I’m laughing, too. He’s still laughing when he says, “See how we live, Patrick?” I do, I guess, but not really. I nod, for want of something meaningful to say. I’m resting my forearm on Ganesh’s shoulder, with my left foot tucked behind my right ankle, trying not to fall over.  

"What to do,” Ganesh adds, and this time it’s quite all right that I say nothing. It’s not really a question, anyway, more a statement of fact.