Clean up, everybody, everywhere…

Many of us are used to our beds being made, toilets cleaned, homes being swept and mopped and trash taken out. And that may be why our city is so messed up.

It was my turn recently to drop my children off at the school’s appointed bus stop on Hennur Main Road here in Bangalore. I anxiously navigated my way along the road and across it clasping tiny hands, muttering continuous warning to watch out for traffic in the early morning even, and to stop kicking up mud in my face.

Having deposited my sons on a mound of concrete, I surveyed the scene. A man was walking a dog. My son pointed to him excitedly and said "There he is again. He’s got only one dog today." I shared in their indulgence looking at the creature with fondness. An odd stray that I perceived later would not merit such a look.

Over the next few days in addition to my anxiety about getting across without getting knocked down or dirty increased, I also realized to my consternation, that besides the above mentioned dangers, I was now looking at a small pile of freshly laid dog excreta. Here was one more piece of trash on the already littered road side. I now looked at anyone walking a dog suspiciously. Woe on anyone whose foot may have accidentally trod on that innocuous pile. Not even the strongest cleaning agents can wipe away the irritation and lingering malodor!

Lane outside BDA complex Koramangala. Filepic: Anisha Nair

"Do you know we are trashing up mother earth?! My son asked somewhat bewildered. "What about your mother and the cleaning she has to do at home after you?" I countered. "That’s different" he replied, "it’s not dangerous". "Sure it is" I replied, "I am getting tired and sick of having to clean up so much".

I wondered if the larger malaise of ignoring our civic duty lay in the way we treated our home. Having become accustomed to cleaning our home for many years now, I find it easier to maintain and organize chores promptly rather than having to go in for a spring cleaning once in a way.

Many of us are used to our beds being made, toilets cleaned, homes being swept and mopped and trash taken out. Because we do not directly undertake any of these chores, we tend to take this maintenance for granted. After all someone is sure to clean up after us. Given this sense of a lack of accountability, it is no surprise that we feel free to litter our roads with candy wrappers, plastic bottles, an odd piece of rag, spit and even dog poop.

In his book "Light on Life", yoga guru B K S Iyengar expounds the ideal of cleanliness as being next to Godliness. He explains that the act of cleansing oneself is to purify oneself before offering one’s service to God. According to him, even the act of cooking involved the ritual of cleansing before one started to cook. The idea here is that when clean hands prepare the food, what we intake is also clean. Indeed our entire lifestyle traditionally encouraged the idea of living a simple and clean life.

Like the clichéd paradox that India is touted to be, even her scenery is a juxtaposition of verdant life and decay. At times I am appalled at the amount of garbage lying about in a bustling street. People go about their business seemingly unaffected by the stench and the fact that they have to skillfully maneuver their way around the mess.

A drive around the city elicits mixed reactions from me. I do not remember Bangalore the way it used to be. I don’t even know what Bangalore used to be like anymore. I go by what long-time residents tell me it used to be. Memory plays tricks on me.

Cubbon Park is not what I think I remember it to be. And as we drive past, I see a man freely use park premises to micturate. This is a familiar sight every time I drive by the city now. Even outside, past the gate of the apartment complex I now live in, there is a stench that overpowers my senses.

Come monsoon and the scenario will worsen. Apart from the steady stream of debris and mud collected over a period of time from the numerous constructions in the city, our own fresh addition to the trash and excrement will only cause a flowing cloudy stream of disgust.

The area on Hennur Main Road near the Hennur Bus Depot is a common pick area for a number of school children. Besides the daily hazards of navigating traffic, errant drivers and a footpath that cannot be used, there is no telling what havoc the onset of rains might play.

Obviously disarray and decay are as much a part of our world as order and cleanliness. The extent to which we share in the process of being responsible for our environment is what makes the difference. We can start this practice at home by ensuring that we are responsible for small tasks such as throwing waste in the bin, clearing our own plates after a meal, keep our toilets clean, tidying up our beds ever morning and cleaning up after we have worked or played. When children learn to respect property they extend this attitude to the outside because they see it as an extension of their world.

Larger issues require the attention of civic authorities where sanitation and hygiene are priorities so that there is no compulsion to pollute the premises. A traffic signal, a visible pedestrian crossing, a well paved footpath are some of the basic requirements that might go a long way into preventing accidents and making the area more safer as well as convenient for the numerous residents who proceed on foot for an early morning walk, to take a bus or go shopping.

Caste, issues of untouchability and poverty reduce many a man, woman or child to the role of a rag picker, trash sorter and collector. Not only are these jobs hazardous but can also cause more refuse being strewn around the streets as depravity encourages scrounging around trash cans and garbage trucks. We have to come up with a more humane system to dispose our refuse so that our responsibility does not end at our doorstep. Sorting out trash into waste that can be recycled is also a way to ensure our part in the sorting out process.

Urban development is lopsided when we do not take into account our environment and care for it. Over the years both natural disasters as well as man-made ones are all indications that we have gone too far and that none of us can escape the collective consequences of such a desecration to nature. Let us not wait for another plague or landslide as our wake up call.

I first heard about the pooper scooper when I was a novice Teaching Assistant during my first year at a University in the United States. My class of 20, were trying to explain the concept of picking up after one’s dog, during a session. I was amused at first and subsequently surprised at the importance this played in the idea of a civic society.

It is inline with this that I came to appreciate special trash cans with disposable garbage bag rolls in the apartment complex in the US I was recently living in, before moving to Bangalore. It made walking with a light step a truly memorable experience. I noticed that people took pride not only in maintain their homes but also their premises. Our sense of loyalty and commitment to the community we live in also extends to the way we treat our neighbours and our surroundings.


  1. Arvind Sai says:

    If I were the editor, I’d seriously spike such whining stories.

    One, NRI’s complaining about India is so yesterday.

    Two, why tell me what I already know? Sure, write about the garbage on the street but then also tell me about the many small and big citizen and government initiatives that are making a difference.

    Three, for heaven’s sakes, compare apples to apples. A university campus is America should not be compared to Hennur main road. Has the author ever visited the inner cities in the US with its filth and drugs and guns and goons?

    I know we live in a city that has huge civic issues and these are compounded by corruption and inefficiency. But any journalist worth a byline should know that it is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness. So should the editor.

  2. Vaidya R says:

    “A drive around the city elicits mixed reactions from me. I do not remember Bangalore the way it used to be. I don’t even know what Bangalore used to be like anymore. I go by what long-time residents tell me it used to be. Memory plays tricks on me.”
    – Amen to that.

    There was a time when I used to come back from any other place in India and find Bangalore actually cleaner. I think it still is true, which is mainly because other dirtier cities have continued to become dirtier. These days with BWSSB digging up everything, incomplete and stuck in litigation infrastructure projects, pollution, dust and the lack of effort towards curbing it, apathy is moving the city towards unlivable. Seems like we are heading towards some catastrophe, to some point where something will have to give (to quote Ravi Shastri). [But then that is true of everything, world economy, Indian economy and political scenario, oh well…]

  3. Uma says:

    I think till there is a paradigm shift in us-citizens, a sense of ownership towards the city and keeping it clean,there is little to hope for.Even where trash cans are placed ,people must use them!!!The collective consciousnesses must awaken….

  4. Aaron says:

    Hate to puncture the bubble of yet another complaining NRI but here’s a reality check on her fatherland — Upper Manhattan in NYC is full of dog shit and this in spite of a $250 fine in place.

  5. Subramaniam Vincent says:

    Arvind, thank you for your pointed remarks. This article has been accepted and run as a citizen voice article. Citizen Matters encourages citizen journalism as part of the platform where professional journalists do the hard reporting and analysis.

    We accept citizen-authored pieces like this as long they are written clearly, are connected to city life, and based on real experience of some kind. We don’t edit them to tone down or take away controversial angles – even though we
    expect there will plenty of reactions. That’s the nature of citizen conversation.

    We don’t commission professional journalists for voice/brief opinion pieces.

    Regarding the good stuff that’s happening in the city, there’s plenty of it and we’ve been reporting a lot of that too.

    Please see this effort to save a lake that has gone even further

    As for waste management, more apartmments are doing a fantastic job, from JP Nagar to Malleswaram and elsewhere. We’re reporting those too.


  6. Arvind Sai says:

    Vincent, thanks for the clarification. I have no hesitation in saluting the fantastic (and often thankless) work Citizen Matters is doing in not just reporting on the city but in catalyzing change. But I still believe that any reporter (even a guest) who is given the privilege of a byline must do more than just complain. As we keep saying in office meetings — do you want to be part of the problem or part of the solution?

  7. Supriya D Gopinath says:

    Solutions: Pick up after your dog, teach your children to be part of keeping the home clean, throw gargage in the trash can, don’t spit on the road, etc etc…are a number of civic lessons that can be part of our upbringing. This author lives here & now and is concerned with what goes on around. She does not jest because it is harrowing to navigate a road full or trash & erratic traffic with two small kids. She does not choose to paint a glorious picture of any country she has lived in. She is only making relevant comparissons to the matter being discussed. Freedom of expression does not require any justification & feedback or critical comments on the article are a welcome chance to learn more. A personal attack on the credibility of the writer is unwarranted.

  8. Aditya says:

    Hi Arvind,

    If you look into the message what the article is trying to bring across – ” To make an effort to keep our sorroundings and city clean” it is true and not just for Bangalore, but a majority of cities in India. This is certainly not only the responsibility of the civic bodies, but primarily our responsibility – as citizens. We talk about progress etc etc. in our cities – is the state of our cities as they are today really make us proud? There is no NRI whining here. This is a true concern for me as well – my sorroundings and quality of life are important to me. I do not understand the NRI bashing here – this is not what the article or paper is trying to address, but to look at issues concerning the city we live in through various lenses and perpectives.

  9. S Srinivasan says:

    I am not an NRI. But I have been writing articles on environmental issues in this journal. Mr.Arvind does not want to read view points of another citizen just because he is already aware and puts the blame on the author for being an NRI !!!
    I would like to know what actions he had taken to improve the neighbourhood. Just because trash is in the side lanes even in USA, what about the same even in the main roads in our cities here?. Please see the article I had written
    We can bring pressure on BBMP but who cares. Can Mr.Arvind take up the cause to improve upon the state of affairs here ?

  10. George Thomas says:

    I’m an NRI, and I would like to address a point or two raised by NRI bashers. First, much of the progress India has made in the past two decades are due to NRIs lobbying companies and governments to send business to India or to enact policies which benefit India, so NRIs are not the uppity moochers they are portrayed to be sometimes. Next, NRIs can bring a fresh perspective to problems and issues in India, which previously garnered no attention. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel, and we certainly cannot afford the NIH(not invented here) mindset. Our problems are too numerous to let ego stand in the way of progress. The Washington Heights dog poop issue raised by Arvind has no relevance to the prevalence of dog poop, trash, leaves, open sewers, unsafe sidewalks, cratered roads and more, which are a fact of life even in so-called “upscale” areas of Bangalore and other Indian cities. Washington Heights is a poor neighborhood, and as the article points out, the snow may have aggravated a relatively minor issue. Such situations are the exception in countries like the US, unlike in India where the reverse is true.

    On my own street in Indiranagar, wealthy people walking their dogs were letting them poop on my sidewalk and in front of my gate, and I got an attitude from them when I asked them to either pick it up or have the dog poop inside their own properties. I then put a sign up to notify anyone walking their dog to please not have them poop in front of my property. These are “educated”, wealthy Indians, who should have more respect for their neighbors and public spaces. What sort of example do they set to others, who are poor, illiterate and/or uneducated? Yes, as an NRI, I think I still have the right to point that out to those who are apathetic to anything outside their own homes, since they don’t seem to have realized it themselves. It’s not “whining”, it’s good civic sense, perhaps acquired through exposure to societies which pride themselves on cleanliness, orderliness and esthetics. And that’s not a bad thing.

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