During my teens I was an ardent reader of now defunct, ‘The Illustrated Weekly of India’. Deeply entrenched in my memory is a cover story published in the magazine decades ago. Columnist and scholar Khushwant Singh, then editor of the weekly, wrote in his inimitable, no-holds-barred style as to how Indians were the dirtiest people in the world. I won’t dare make any such comment but …
Is in not a fact that despite a significant rise in the literacy rate, we continue to behave like the uneducated and the uncouth people? Regarding our personal hygiene we may be very particular about, but it is also true that most of us are least bothered about keeping our surrounding clean.
In close proximity to my house there is a small park, which I visit every day for my evening walk. Along the circular walking path there are benches for the people to sit and relax. All around the benches one can invariably find empty packets, bottles, disposable glasses, wrappers, paper-plates etc. Not that there are no dust bins in the park but the people who snick-snack in the garden often leave a trail of junk behind. It is quite common for the people to eat ground nuts and leave a mound of shells. They would have a banana or an orange, there are peels left behind as a tell tale sign. This phenomenon is not peculiar to my neighbourhood park only but is a common sight in all the public places. Even in the posh Sector 17 market; people enjoy their drink and eatables on the benches and coolly walk away leaving the trash behind. Why take the trouble of throwing the refuse in the dustbins when there is an easier option of abandoning the litter there itself? We take no time in converting ‘beauty spots’ into ‘eye sores’, as if we are not comfortable in neat surroundings.
What may be outrageous elsewhere is perfectly normal for us. Where as in the West, owners ensure that their dogs do not litter on the streets; here we make sure that the pets relieve themselves out of the home. The pet dogs have to be taken for a walk to piss and shit outside. The pet is trained not to litter the house but there is nothing wrong if the dog raises its leg in front of the neighbour’s house. We may be finicky about keeping our house clean but some of us display an appalling civic sense. I know of a couple who carries their garbage every day in a poly-bag while they go out for their morning walk and casually throw it on the roadside. How callous!
It is not unusual to see a hand coming out of a swanky car to throw a wrapper or a peel on the road. A gentle man getting down from his car to ease himself on the road side is a common sight. We do not mind spitting here, there and everywhere in the public. When Lalit Bhanot, then organizing secretary, Common Wealth Games made the infamous comment on Indian standards of hygiene, he was ridiculed by everyone. We were outraged. How dare he let the world know how dirty we are!
(Published in the Tribune on 3 June 2013 as MIDDLE)