Still Searching for Pipe Dreams

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SIMULACRA: Pipe Dreams is a comment on gaming addiction (and peeing birds) – Virtual SEA

Ramchandra Kumar stands next to a defunct toilet in his home. He hopes to build a new, usable toilet. Image by Ann Schraufnagel. India, In the morning, Ramchandra Kumar fills up his lota , the small cup of water with which he cleans himself, and goes to the rice fields in front of his home to defecate—but almost every day, there are women working in the area. He is forced to hold it.

Joel Malka ‒ Pipe Dreams (prod. Joel Malka) [Official Lyric Video]

Kumar is one of more than million Indians who defecate in the open every day. But Swachh Bharat, however ambitious and well-intentioned, leaves behind some of the most marginalized groups in Indian society, including Ramchandra and his family. He is a sinewy, soft-spoken man.

Scattered around the neatly swept dirt floors of the home that he shares with his brothers and their families is a toilet graveyard. Three separate toilet pans, now half-buried in the dirt, remain as legacies of another failed government scheme—latrines built so shoddily that they were never once used.

Despite his poverty, Kumar is determined to build a toilet.

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He and his wife Sunita work as cleaners at a community toilet facility a forty-minute walk from their home. They learned about the Swachh Bharat Mission through their work. For a couple whose combined monthly income is less than the government reimbursement, fronting the few hundred dollars to build a toilet is not an option. Additionally, Anand explains that less than half of the applicants for reimbursement from the Swachh Bharat program are below the poverty line.

The eligibility criteria for the government reimbursement are complex, and according to Anand, less than half of applicants are eligible for reimbursement—a fact they learn after having built their toilet.


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Those who are approved are supposed to be paid within fifteen days of submitting their application. However, Anand explains that, due to a large influx of applications six months ago, his office has been delayed in releasing payments. Late reimbursements, with no accountability or penalty for lateness, introduce new challenges. Millions more in other states are landless or have insecure rights to the land on which they rely.

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He contends that moderate pipe smoking, without inhaling, promotes relaxation and clear thinking, and it serves as an ideal antidote to stress that is much safer than the tranquilizers that are so freely dispensed today. Unlike cigar and cigarette smokers, pipe collectors actually save their pipes. They clean and polish them and put them in racks or display cabinets. If they are broken, they have them repaired. Most pipe smokers remember when they bought each pipe in their collection, and every time they take a pipe out, it is a reminder of the past, to be enjoyed in the present, for many years into the future.

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