It has been more than three months since I landed here. This is the longest I have stayed in India after I moved to US of A for graduate school. Over the years, my trips to India has always been like hit-and-run operation where I just land, attend a wedding, pilgrimage visits , landmark bookstore and then head back to US. That was always the case until this trip.
Having had the opportunity and the time to observe what has changed/ what remained the same over the years, it gave me some time to reflect on few things.
Most of my compatriots talk about how incomes have changed over the years where they can afford BMWs, Audis. It is true that incomes/ cost of living/ comfort level has changed over the years. More time is spent on convenience than haggling. What has not changed over the years and Why?
Sometimes when I bring this topic up, my local friends here sometimes gets defensive and shoot this remark, "Karthik, you are an American..You guys would come here and make statements. You have no idea what idea what we go through here?" It is true that I don't live here any more. I am not comparing US to India or vice versa and making conclusion out of that. Both the countries have the merits and demerits which one can learn from. It is definitely not about that at all. Consider me as a global citizen trying to figure out why things are the way they are. What can we do to make it a better place to live in?
To give you an instance, two months back I traveled by train from Chennai Egmore to Vaitheeswaran temple which is our Kula Deivam. For people who don't know what Kuladeivam means, Kuladeivam is a deity that has been in the worship by the ancestors of a dynasty or family for several generations. Anyways, during the train ride, I was nibbling a snack (probably biscuit or something) and after finishing the whole packet of biscuits, I was saving whatever was left like the wrapper in a zip-loc bag in my shirt pocket. I did the same at later point of time for another snack. The gentleman who was sitting next to me who was noticing all this, quietly came next to me and made a statement "Aren't you from US, Am I right?". Surprised by his statement, I asked him how he came up with that. Without blinking an eye, he responded, " You guys all think keeping the trash to yourself will make India clean. It can and it will never happen. " As he was telling me this he was finishing his bag of nuts held in the newspaper and threw the newspaper out of window quietly. It made me wonder how we as a community can brag about how smart we are and how we can be dumb in public. Why do we lack the sense of public hygiene? From the brief chatting, I found out later that the person is highly educated and works in one of the reputed global IT companies making sizeable income. How can we address this issue?
I am not complaining, condemning or criticizing about the current system. How can we change for better? If we are advancing in so many areas, how do we lack this basic sense of hygiene?
To solve any problem, the first thing to do is to accept and embrace the truth. We have to admit that there is something fundamentally wrong with our mindset in the grassroot level.
All of us collect our trash everyday. We have an option of walking to the nearest neighborhood dump where we can drop it off or we can drop it in the street when no one is paying attention. Any sane person would admit that walking little bit more to drop off that dump is the right thing to do in the interest of city as a whole. Yet, personally, it seems such a waste of time, considering that the streets are anyway dirty and the trash of one household is not going to contribute to make much of a difference to the overall sanitation of the city. The sad part is majority thinks in the same way which has a compounding effect resulting in huge garbage of a country of billion + people.
I regularly use auto rickshaw service to get to place and I notice a common pattern. While waiting in line for the signal to turn green, majority of them decide to jump red light and it seems to get ahead of others and make life easier. What does it tell about them? They are privately smart, but then as others are no less rational, intelligent and smart, everyone start squealing for the same reasons and before we know it, we have unruly traffic, filthy streets, public urinals. And then we complain about a dirty country, a polluted city and appalling traffic which clearly shows we are dumb collectively.
Why sacrifice one's self-interest for the sake of community when one can throw away the trash or jump a red light without any fear of retribution? Maybe fear of punishment can make us be conscientous.
But how are we going to implement that? In Singapore, they are strict about enforcing the rules and they are quite successful doing it. Now in the grassroot level, people are extremely cautious and clean which is what is needed here. It was relatively an easier task considering the fact Singapore is lot smaller than India.
Another observation: I have used the MRTS train to get around the city. It is hard to believe that such a new route with well planned granite structure do not have proper lighting. I can smell of urine the moment I enter the station...How is that possible? These are things that need to be addressed and taken care of.
I had a vision for future where I was able to visualize cashflow from my business which can provide enough money for the Mandaveli MRTS station. I can visualize the station being well lit, all the bathrooms neat and tidy, and companies in the nearby area can advertise to woo lot of eye balls to their business similar to all the ads in the John Wayne airport, the moment you land there.The advertisements should be able to generate enough cashflow whereby the cleanliness can be reinforced and severe penalty should be imposed to people who violate these rules. I know it is easier said than done, but all it takes handful of entrepreneurs making the decision to step ahead and make it a reality. There are just handful of stations and if all the entrepreneurs takes the initiative to do that, it will surely add tremendous value to the city.
This success story can inspire more people to take the initiative which will result in compound effect for better. It starts with the individual writing/reading this blog (me) taking the step to be really clean, accountable and conscientous. Once the example is set, there will be enough people to follow and duplicate the right things. Like Gandhiji said, let us all be the change which we would like to see in the World.