Archive for October 18th, 2010

A high-ranking official’s (in)famous comment on Indian hygeine at the recently concluded Commonwealth games had the nation in a furore. Though the poor gentleman wasn’t wrong in what he said, the issue is that he said it. In public. In front of the foreign media.

India never ranked high on the hygeine list anyway. But that doesn’t give an official the license to wash our dirty linen in public, does it?

Anyhow, thats not what this post is about. Ummm..actually it is, but not regarding Mr.Bhanot. He came to my mind only because I was reminded of him when I saw a certain mail from the clients.

Since I’m not making much sense up there (read, last para. Not the upper chambers of my cranium . Just clearing the air before we proceed 😀 ), let me clarify further. It so happens that a few people from the office were sent to the client-side in US. These people were working in a separate section of the office premises and hence, were provided with a separate smoking zone for their convenience. The clients were considerate enough to provide a receptacle for throwing of cigarette butts.


We are Indians. Right? Right.

So we throw the cigg-butts on the ground, stamp them and forget about it. The receptacle be damned for all it is worth!!

The quality manager put in one or two gentle requests to the project head to communicate the lack of cleanliness in the smoking zone. The project head, on her behalf, sent a couple of gentle mails to the team in question, requesting them to make use of the receptacle.


We are Indians. Right? Right.

So we ignore the mails and continue to throw the cigg-butts on the ground.

And that’s when the Project head explodes. I mean, literally explodes. At least that’s what we can surmise from her mails where she questions all the team members AND their respective heads AND their managers as to what is so difficult about aiming a cigg-butt at the trash bin!? Not only that, she explicitly asks the ‘visitor’ to behave like ‘guests’ and adhere to the rules of ‘their country’.

Now , now.

It made me think.

On the content that was NOT said, but implied. Like “This is NOT your country to do as you please” , “You may trash your country as much as you want, don’t try trashing mine” or even , “Don’t try to make yourself at home in my neat and clean country. You are a visitor, so just try and stay clean till the time you have to go back. And go back you will, because no way are we letting you people stay here a minute longer than necessary“.

We were ashamed when we saw that mail. It wasn’t just about the cigg-butts. It was a much larger issue. Of Indians being termed unhygenic with zero regard for cleanliness. That we prove it so strongly within a short period of Mr.Bhanot’s widely-heard comment, makes our case all the more weak.

So coming back to the question in hand, why is hygeine such a difficult word. We all try to keep our homes, our bathrooms, our courtyards clean. What about that patch of land right outside the courtyard? Why is it ok to dump all the trash out there? What makes us think that the boundaries of our homes are the ONLY areas of our concern? What makes people spit on the roads? What makes men pee on the roads? Why can’t mothers reprimand their children who throw toffee wrappers on the ground? Why can’t men throw cigarette butts in a trash bin?

Why is the ‘toss-it-out-of-my-hands-onto-the-road’  the only physical activity we believe in? And while we do the tossing, why cant we wait till we find a bin?? Does holding a wrapper for a few minutes more make the hand filthier? Does the stubbed out cigarette burn the fingers till you find a trash-bin to throw it into??

Why exactly do we feel the urge to discard unwanted things like waste paper pieces, gutkha wrappers, etc as soon as possible, irrespective of where we discard it?? Do people try doing this at home?

I’m not really sure where I’m heading with all these questions 😦

Its very difficult to explain the concept of hygeine to a population where the majority them does not have access to toilets, trash-bins or even water. For a villager coming to a city, a packet of ‘gutkha’ is to be consumed and the packet thrown away, for the breeze to take it where it pleases. The villagers may not even be aware of contraptions like trash-bins. Can we blame them??

I know that there are plenty of trash-containers in my city, but we see the trash lying outside the bin. Any idea why the bad aiming?

There are plenty of smaller trash containers in the city, but most of them get stolen, either for the metal or are just vandalized, because the perpetuators are not aware of the significance of the bins.

One of the maids who used to work for us earlier, once proudly claimed that she cannot use a loo because of the confined space. She doesn’t even use the one in her own house!! She prefers releiving herself on the hill-side behind her place. She and a hundred others who have made the base of the hill their home. The early-morning walk on the hill is no longer fun. Because the morning scene is unsightly.

How do you then convince these people?? How many more common toilets will the government churn out before convincing people to use them? The problem here is not lack of toilets. It is the lack of will to use them!! Even today, in most parts of the country, constructing a loo is considered an overhead, an unnecessary expenditure.

Is it any wonder then, that to an outsider it looks disgustingly ridiculous to see children lined up on the roadside emptying their bowels? Who will teach the parents that they are responsible for teaching their kids to use a loo. How many people can we convince. How many will change for the better? And how many will just ask us to mind our own business and let them get on with their life?!!

Yeah, I’m disturbed…… and rightly so.

I have no idea if those erring members of my company have been suitably punished or not. Though I’d like them to. But they aren’t alone in tarnishing our image. Its just something they are used to doing back here in our country. Its a force of habit, if nothing else. A habit inculcated so deeply into their bloodstream, they are no longer aware that it is wrong. And while I say “they“, I mean “us“. Because I’m a part of this too.

Because , in more ways than one, I’m guilty too 😦

Because I don’t bother to point out to the guy watering the walls that he’s not at home. That I don’t try and advise a kid to NOT throw wrappers when they are in the presence of their parents/guardians. After all, what are they there for? I don’t bother to check if my maid throws the trash in the trash bin on the roadside or just flings it casually,unmindful of whether it landed in the right place or not.

Yes, I’m at fault.

And it means that  I lack hygeine too, because I’m not bothered enough about the cleanliness outside my home.

The cigg-butt incident has opened my eyes in more ways than one. I was earlier upset that it happened, but now I’m glad that it did. If not for anyone else, it was eye-opener for me 🙂 .

I’ve now resolved to take tiny measures to correct my ways. No shying away from pointing out someone who litters and request them to pick up their trash. Though, the watering-the-walls-guys are still an ugly prospect, I’ll just have to tag the BF along to do the needful!! He wouldn’t like it one bit, I tell you, but its all for the sake of a better tomorrow, right ?! Thats the line I’ll tell him. Hope he falls for it 😀

Wish me luck 🙂

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