Norman Mailer’s novel The Naked and the Dead describes what happens to a frightened American soldier running away from a battle with the Japanese (during World War II) in an island in the South Pacific. It seems he threw away his weapon and started running from the scene of combat to safety, and while so doing felt an uncontrollable urge to relieve himself.. He didn’t stop for the purpose, allowing the stool to roll down his trouser legs and shook the stuff off as he ran.
In my tenth year, I was not fighting the Japanese but a recurring bout of diarrhea when I was sent to Mamar Badi (maternal uncle’s home) at Madanpur during the school summer vacation to study for the forthcoming half-yearly examination. Mama owned a chemist’s shop there, to replenish the stocks of which he was coming to Kolkata (then Calcutta). He was to pick me up from our suburban home in Uttarpara, take me to my Mashima ( his other sister) at Bhabanipur, Kolkata and we would sleep the night there. Next morning. picking up stocks from the famous Rhymer Chemists at nearby Kalighat Road, we would proceed to Madanpur.
Everything went on smoothly as planned. Depositing me in a chair in front of the sales counter of Rhymer, Mama vanished in the depths of the shop to hunt for his requirements in the forest of tall shelves. Under the benign gaze of the salesman in the counter, I started reading a story about a boy detective when the dreadfully familiar motions in the pit of the stomach began. Biting my lower lip, I drew out blood so as to neutralize those uncontrollable spasms. It worked for a while, and then it was too late to ask the salesman the way to the toilet. Somehow I managed to come out of the shop and then let go. Unlike Mailer’s soldier, there was nothing to shake off; it just flowed out of my shorts into socks, shoes and the pavement.
Seeing my tear-stained face and the condition I was in, a rickshaw puller pointed to me the cast iron water trough on the other side of the road (meant for horses to drink, there were horse-drawn carriages at that time). I washed off the slime but could not get rid of the smell emanating from the soggy shorts, socks and shoes. Dawdling for some time in the sun in front of Rhymer, I tiptoed in when the salesman gave me a quizzical look, puckering his nose.
Then, Mama came bustling out with attendants bearing packages. We poured into a taxi, drove to Sealdah station and settled down in a railway compartment. It was then Mama complained of the smell. The lady of the house (Mama’s wife) understood the situation at once. She told me to get rid of my clothes and take a bath with soap aplenty. Next day, I was given a stool and a desk in the verandah for studies. I stood third in order of merit in the examination.