Paradox, thy name is India!

Disrespect & Indiscipline are the main reasons for lack of cleanliness!


A friend Shreekant, went to Europe for a month and mostly lived in Holland with relatives. On his Facebook page he shared some very nice write-ups about the pleasant weather, systems and so on. In his comments there were natural references and comparisons with Bharat desh. He made a very prudent and specific statement that we tend to be very harsh on ourselves when we compare with other societies and other nations, we are a young nation with very old civilization. I totally agree with him because there are a lot of complexities involved in our nation and life! I have always been wondering for the reasons for these paradoxes! Honestly I am never able to come to any conclusion for my question, WHY? It is why to everything.

Let us not say that in India, people live mostly in Villages, it is old story. There has been a big migration from villages to towns and cities. I know why this is happening. It is the abject poverty and lack of job opportunities in villages that pushes people towards cities. Recently I was in Europe, in larger cities and smaller towns and sometimes in villages. Obviously my mind too started making comparisons. Both in cities and smaller places things were relatively similar in Europe. In India also we have similarities but of the wrong kind! We are extremely capable as a society of making our cities & villages dirty! Cities like smaller places can be really dirty! That is the first impression that we carry whenever we travel outside India to developed nations.

 India as a country has made great progress  in satellite technology,  they are well known in IT field! India is the largest manufacturer of two wheelers in the world! Suzuki car production in India is much larger than their production in Japan! India has slowly started doing well in sports at world level! Indian engineers, doctors, scientists have done pretty well on global scene. This is where the paradoxes begin.

Let us begin at the beginning. How long have we been one, as a nation? Before 1947 there was no concept of India. We may sing paeans of glory of Bharat, जहा डाल डाल पर सोने की चिडियां करतीं हैं बसेरा यह भारत देश है मेरा! It feels good to listen to the song but the ground realities are quite different. Indian continent was made up of hundreds of small kingdoms ruled by the Rajas and Nabobs. For the first time in the history of the continent, area from Pune to Atak was under the rule of Peshwas. That too was for a brief period. Many years before that, Mughal invaders came to “India” and ruled. Before 1947 British ruled us for 150 years, using a small army and big brain. British had clearly understood that since there was no “India” as such, they could easily use the divide and rule strategy. Under the non-Indian rulers most of the population never had any rights; the benefits of technology hardly reached them. British made sure that industrial revolution benefits reached only where and when it was beneficial to British. There was no “All India” policy.

European countries have existed as nations for centuries, sometimes by different names, some have split and some have merged. Japan has been in existence for a long time. China also is around for a long time. United States and Canada have also been existing as countries for a couple of centuries. Most important aspects of these countries is, though there has been variance in different parts of the nations, mostly they were quite coherent in food, culture, clothing and language. Except for the obviously large countries, all others are pretty small, smaller than the many Indian States of today. Ruling and managing such countries was much easier.

Indian complexities start with 31 major languages, with that many different cultures, as many different types of foods including the way we eat. But somehow one thing we have in common across the cultures of our great Indian continent is total disrespect for laws and rules, total disregard for each other’s personal space, disregard for maintenance of personal infrastructure of all types. I am not talking of government infrastructure! You must be wondering how I have not written anything about cleanliness! Lack of cleanliness is the end result of everything.

Disrespect for law is ingrained in our DNA. We have disrespect for authority. The respect starts with respect to next individual. In Hindi movies whenever a young person meets elderly person, they are always respected by touching their feet! In mythology we have great stories of Ram, Laxman, and Bharat who go really out of the way to respect their eldest brother Ram. When it comes to public life how respect suddenly vanishes? Though we have our old traditions for respect! In north India even a new born child is addressed with respect, using word आप. Luckhnow culture is known for पहले आप culture, meaning please go ahead, I will follow you! I feel that we make use of traditions conveniently! What could be the reason for disrespect? The Indians were always ruled by others for centuries. Main reason could be it is a way of protesting against authorities. But we forget that now it is our country, so how this attitude will help?

Disrespect to others creates “I don’t care attitude!” I feel like spitting in public, I will spit! In our society chewing paan or betel leaf and/or tobacco, and of course spitting the juice in public, is “culture”! Basic things like standing in a queue are handled so differently. People sometimes stand so much near you in your personal space that you have to tell people to move away. You will be jostled, pushed. Most of the time, someone will always try to jump the queue claiming “I have only half a minute work”! I also find problems in traffic. When I stop for red signal, at least 5 to 10% of times guys on bike will try to snake their way in non-moving traffic banging on my side mirror! Personal space, never heard of that!

Stopping for a red signal is an international norm. We will try to jump signal if policeman is not around, else we think that stopping over zebra crossing is our birth right. This is disrespect to others and law! Laws are made for smooth running of the society. In any society a small percentage of people are bound to break the laws. But in India very large numbers break laws with impunity. Once I was driving thru a green signal; after I passed, I heard commotion. Suddenly around 15 bikers just broke the red signal and drove thru. A policeman was there but how can a single policeman catch 15 people? Two wheelers are supposed to carry two passengers; it started with taking additional baby in the lap. Then it changed to two adults plus two children around the age of 10 or 12. One of them sitting on the petrol tank of the bike. Mind you this is not an exception!

Personal infrastructure is the area around homes, condos or where you live! In olden days there were small homes generally one story or ground level. Cleaning homes and pushing the dust outside home was the definition of cleaning the home. There was no concretization, there was no paper, so cleaning was pretty simple, push dust outside in the dust around your home. Things have now changed drastically and homes have also changed. The amount of trash we generate is enormous. The mix has changed, there is plastic, there is metal, there is paper and there is glass. Still in many homes definition of cleaning has not much changed. At the most people collect their trash and throw it in a convenient spot on the way to somewhere, dumpsters be damned! The best way to keep things clean is to not create the trash in public spaces;  when you achieve this, you  don’t have to clean the roads. In advanced countries the trash that you generally see on roads is tree leaves and cigarette butts. Somehow developed countries have also not been able to eliminate these butts. Once my grandson Suyash, who lives in the USA, had come to Pune. From our 7th floor abode we could see a lot of buildings around. Suyash asked me, “Grandpa, why don’t they paint their homes?” They all looked pretty ungainly because they were never probably repainted after construction. Buildings were maybe 10 year old. In these ten years not even one building was repainted. With Monsoon and heat, Moss streaks make buildings not a very pretty site. I am sure people living in these buildings could definitely afford to get them repainted once in ten years! I  normally live in a colony of row houses or town houses. People just used to hang their laundry from front balcony. Only after we started fining people they reluctantly stopped it.

I feel that all the lack of discipline, disdain for laws and rules, lack of consideration for others are independent of social status, financial status, (In fact sometimes I feel that it is inversely proportional) and your education. All the cleanliness drives, swatchhata diwas are of no use if the mindset is not changed. If we as a society handle the trash prudently instead throwing stuff where ever we want, we will have cleaner cities and villages. Pune is one of the better places where sweepers sweep the roads sincerely but I would rather have sweeper less Pune. Why are we required to sweep the road instead of collecting trash? All over India there is a big drive going on from government to stop open defecation, subsidies are also offered to needy. to build toilets But in Punjab many men still defecate in fields though they have toilets at home; when asked why they do so? The reply was, “It is Manly”! God bless us! Amen! You may listen to the song जहा डाल डाल पर सोने की चिडियां करतीं हैं बसेरा using link below. Tell me how you feel after listening to the song, now! 

So long dear friends, Al Vida!

Al Vida is a Hindi word meaning Goodbye! This year has been a bit rapid in the wrong sense! I lost three dear friends of mine to the almighty till today, 11th April 2017. I am not writing an obituary but I am writing random thoughts that come to mind when such deaths take place. I am now 67 and it’s not a big deal really to face that your friends or family are dying. I know the realities of life and know very well that one has to go at some stage. My first such experience was when I was in final year of school and I had lost a friend to destiny. I have written a blog on this event That time it was a big shock!

In my grandparent’s time, he died at the age on 89, reaching that age was a miracle! Medical science and other allied sciences were not yet really developed and reaching the age of 50 was a great feat. Probably this threshold has already gone up to 55, then slowly to 60. My father and father in law both died at the age of 63. Celebrating 60th birthday was a great event then. People were considered to be at their prime around age of 40/45. Things have really changed now; almost 10 % of my batch mates from engineering college continue to work and are in reasonable health. Another maybe 50% are in good health though they have retired. People go for walks, treks, climb hills daily or hit the gym.

Now people are considered to be in prime around the age of 55/60 and I have known a few who have started new ventures after crossing 60. Definitions of old age are changing rapidly in India, the age bar for doing new things, new achievements has gone up! Besides improvement in medical sciences what has helped to raise the bar? New technology has brought people together. The isolation that older people had to suffer is now almost becoming history because we are in touch many people and many of the contemporaries are still around. This has definitely added to improved longevity.

I only feel sad that two of my friends who died, passed away almost instantaneously. Third friend was unwell for a few months. I don’t know the details about their health status for the period before they died. My other friend Suresh who was an Air Force pilot, flying MIG 27, had once told me. “Pramod, planes are as good as the way they are maintained. Except for one system, all hydraulics can be checked on the ground; only one system gets checked during flying. Similarly there is no sudden heart failure; there are signals which are ignored or sometimes due to diabetes the person does not feel the pain.” Had these two friends been a little more proactive in getting themselves checked who knows….

In this world time is the same for everybody. One minute for me is the same one minute to everybody. How we use this one minute is what matters. If we are day dreaming, thinking of future for ten minutes, we lose ten minutes from the current time which we could have spent better. Similarly if we had used those ten minutes to remember what we had done in the past, the net result would have been the same. It is the current time that is THE time!

Out of the three friends that I lost one of them was current time person. He would enjoy life to the fullest, whatever he was doing. He passed early morning. He had just come back from a party a couple of hours before he died. He had the real zest to enjoy the life. His son had shared the following on Facebook, sometime back. It is a perfect fit to my dear friend’s style!

The Dalai Lama, when asked what surprised him most about humanity:

“Man. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. Then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present. The result being that he neither lives in present nor the future. He lives as if he is never going to die, and then he dies never really lived.”

My friend really lived life and it is not easy to be so zestful all through your life. Thank you dear for showing us the path how to live and in the how to go!  Goodbye, Al Vida, My angels!