The Rock Garden, Chandigarh personifies the concept of best from waste; it is a beautiful, unique, place that features some truly original and inspired sculptures and installations. On my visit there, I saw Nek Chand’s fascinating ideas brought to fruition.
What I also saw however, was litter left behind by careless and unfeeling visitors, an overflowing gutter that bore mute testimony to an apathetic and incompetent administration and a general disregard for a public space that we could all be so proud of.
The interlinked waterfalls and channels are cleverly constructed to use saved rainwater. However the water was sludgy and smelly, choked with weeds and littered with discarded water bottles, chips packets and more inexplicably, shoes! The overflowing gutter in Phase III of the garden meant a small lake of sewage collected in the open space. The overpowering smell of feces prompted visitors to leave the area with haste.
Needless to say, this experience was only symptomatic of the deeper and far more endemic malaise– the uniquely Indian disregard for anything that is not personal property. If it doesn’t belong to us, we don’t really care what happens to it. Who or what is responsible for this wanton defilement of not only the Rock Garden, but also our other public spaces? Why are our parks so dirty, streets so littered, trains and buses so dirty, lakes and rivers so choked with sewage?
The Clean-Aangan Syndrome
We Indians are scrupulous about keeping our houses clean. Regular sweeping, swabbing and dusting will ensure that the house is spotless. But where do most of us throw the dust in the dustpan and the dirty water that collects after said sweeping and swabbing? It is typically disposed of at any place outside the house.
The attitude is this: “So long as my house is clean I really don’t care about the neighbourhood”. This same “clean-aangan” syndrome comes into play each time we carelessly chuck a pet bottle out of a car window on to a pristine hillside, or dump an empty packet of chips out of the window of a speeding train. We don’t care where the garbage goes, so long as it is removed from our own property or immediate vicinity.
Do We Lack Basic Aesthetic Sense?
Is it that we Indians are not able to see how much worse off they leave a place when we litter, spit, spew that disgusting paan ki pichkari? Doesn’t the garbage offend our sense of the aesthetic? Why doesn’t it look ugly to us If we can see a speck of dirt within our own homes, why don’t the mountains of garbage in our squalid public spaces enrage and revolt us?
Why does a so-called educated man, in a swanky car think nothing of rolling down his window to spit a large disgusting stream of red, masticated paan anywhere he deems fit? And why do we feel that it’s OK to make things worse? The excuse readily offered is this: “There is already litter around – adding to it won’t really make a difference.” and with this, we quickly and effortlessly absolve ourselves of the guilt that we refuse to feel.
Our Incompetent, Ineffective Civic Administrative Services
Some of us may even be conscious enough to try and bin our garbage. Some of us may take a look around – if a garbage can is visible and within reach we may just reach over and drop our leavings there (though I have seen plenty of people standing next to a garbage bin and throwing their trash on the ground). However these garbage cans need to be enough in number – they need to strong, capacious and everywhere. There needs to be a system in place where these are emptied regularly. Our average apathetic Indian citizen cannot be expected to walk a hundred meters in search of a garbage can; that average citizen is a natural litterer; and litter they will. Much of the blame also lies with our civic authorities. The dreadful sight of an overflowing gutter and the revolting smell that emanated from it at the Chandigarh rock garden was because people in charge of maintaining this unique garden were not doing their job. There was rubbish floating in the water because it wasn’t being cleaned and because there weren’t adequate provisions to encourage people to be a little more responsible in their behavior.
Neither Social nor Legal Deterrent
And then lastly what is the deterrent for littering and other uncivil behavior? Practically nothing! There isn’t even social censure. Not only will I not get fined for littering, no one will look askance at me for such behavior. There is no deterrent. So basically it’s a case of have rubbish, will litter.
By Reena Daruwalla
Image Source: Littering- Facebook