A Full House is an Auspicious Omen!
Biba Manger and her husband Bir Bahadur bask in the November sun on the balcony of their cheery little home in Tinacre village in Barnesbeg Tea Estate, Darjeeling, West Bengal. She looks happily at the slippers on her doormat, left there by guests inside her house “In our culture, a house full of guests is an auspicious place,” she says. “I’m happy my house is so full these days…”
Things weren’t always like this. Till 2011, Biba and her husband did not have a proper toilet in their house. Their only son migrated to Delhi in search of better opportunities. He returned a few years later and built them a toilet. However, the family ran out of funds to construct a proper soak pit. “My husband does not work and the income I bring home as a tea plucker is barely enough for us to make two ends meet,” she says. Their house is built on such a tiny piece of land that there was no space to dig a soak pit at a hygienic distance from the house. There was only one thing left to do: the couple built a makeshift soak pit beneath the wooden floorboards of their house.
Biba still shudders in revulsion when she recalls the stench that pervaded their house all the time. It rose from under their wooden floorboards and wafted to their neighbours. “They used to constantly complain to us about the smell, but we were helpless,” she says. “I can’t tell you how unhappy I was, how ashamed. But I had no money to make things better.” Biba suspects that it was the lack of proper infrastructure that contributed to her son’s decision to stay away from home for so many years.
Their lives transformed in 2020 when the Twinings and WaterAid India project to provide access to safe drinking water, improved sanitation and hygiene in Barnesbeg selected their household for the construction of a biodigester soak pit attached to their toilet. With proper plastering, airtight cover and bacterial inoculum which digests sewage efficiently, this was a gamechanger.
“I was able to breathe clean air in my house for the first time,” Biba laughs. “The very neighbours who used to taunt us about the smell from our house, now envy us.” Their house has become the hub of community activity and even their son now wants to return home with his wife and child. “We are now thinking of expanding our house so that when he returns, we can all live comfortably,” she says. Just then, their neighbour from across the road stops by to chat. “Ever since they have got this new bio-digester pit, I have also been wondering how to get one,” he says. “It is so much more hygienic!”
Biba smiles. “The smell has gone, our community respects us once more and we live in hope that our son will come back home soon,” she says. “Life is good…”