Posted by: cochinblogger | May 7, 2011

Kaloor’s Smelly Secret

I was surprised on more than one count when my father related the following about Kaloor, the part of Cochin where the Jawaharlal Nehru International Stadium is located. Kaloor also has many pleasant residential colonies. I should know, because I walk through Kaloor’s by-lanes most days of the week.

My father remembers the manual scavenging system that used to be practiced in Cochin before Independence. Manual scavenging was a hereditary profession, and the scavengers were called thottis. They used to visit each house early in the morning, carrying a drum-shaped vessel. The contents were dumped into a huge cylindrical container mounted on wheels, which was pushed from house to house. After the morning’s rounds were over, the vehicle was hauled to Kaloor, and emptied into the dumping grounds there. There was no chemical or biological treatment of any kind. There it lay in unholy profusion, variously hued, variously shaped, the waste matter of high and low, young and old, male and female, united in the most democratic fashion.

The dumping grounds used to be where the Kaloor bus stand is located today. The entire neighborhood stank to high heaven. Passengers on buses to Aluva passing the area were assaulted by the stench of night soil.

The solitary train in those days linking Cochin to Chennai, via Shoranur, was called The Mail, as mail from outside was carried to Cochin on this train. It was an important train, the only link between Cochin and the outside world. The vehicle with its stinking cargo that was driven by the thottis was given a euphemistic name by the locals: they referred to it as the Kaloor Mail.

After Independence, this practice of manual scavenging was stopped by the authorities. It was made mandatory for houses to have attached toilets and septic tanks. And the dumping grounds were treated with chemicals to neutralize the odor and cleanse the soil of its noisome burden.

So, the next time you find yourself at Kaloor, spare a thought for the thottis of yesteryear.

The photos above show another type of basic cleaning being done in Kaloor — and the men who do it.



  1. That’s fascinating. But I cant help wondering about the practical details of pre-septic tank days.
    When people wished to “use the facilities”, as it were, into what did they initially void their excretions? Was there some sort of commode? A series of catching-pans, which servants emptied into a common bucket?
    Sorry. please excuse me. I never fully grown out of a schoolboy’s amusement of all things scatological!

    • The receptacle was essentially a tin positioned at the bottom of a hole in the ground.

      Has this quenched your scatalogical curiosity? I doubt it. 🙂

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