The one thing I hate the most about living in Bangalore, India is – there is no other way to say this – the piles of shit I have to jiggy around every time I decide to walk to my destination.
The reason we live where we live (meaning our area of Bangalore, not Bangalore itself) is that everything we need – grocery stores, medical stores, other convenience stores, even my son’s school, are all within walking distance. Given Bangalore’s terrible traffic situation, I thought it was best this way. Unfortunately, I failed to account for the absolutely horrific amounts of garbage strewn everywhere and the piles of feces, new ones of which unfailingly appear everyday.
My son’s school is literally within 500 steps of our apartment in a very busy residential/commercial locality (i.e., we don’t live out in the boonies) and I’m not exaggerating when I say that we have to gingerly navigate the streets for every one of those steps for fear of our feet landing in one of those piles.
I don’t know if my memory of my earlier life in Bangalore has taken on a rosy hue (granted it was more than 10 years ago) or if Bangalore was just a cleaner place then. I just don’t remember seeing so much of the filth I am seeing now. Or maybe I am seeing Bangalore with new eyes. Maybe Bangalore was just as filthy then, but I was not bothered because I did not know any better.
I loathe to blame lack of infrastructure for the severe shortage of civic sense, but surely that is part of the problem. There is simply not sufficient infrastructure to support Bangalore’s burgeoning population, a sizeable portion of which settles down in slums and sidewalks upon arriving into the city. Early morning ablutions and life, for that matter, have to happen in full view of the rest of the city. There is no alternative.
In a radio interview, the former Deputy-Mayor of Bangalore described the problems the administration runs into when deciding where to place garbage dumpsters. Residents and shopkeepers protest the placement of the dumpsters – “not in front of my house,” “not in front of my shop,” and “not on our street” are the constant refrains the administration encounters. This reminds me of the NIMBY (Not in My Back Yard) movement in the United States.
The reason for this is obvious. The residents know two things: one, they themselves are not going to keep the area clean. Garbage will be thrown haphazardly, many a times the filth landing all around the dumpster rather than in it; second, the municipalities will not pick up garbage promptly according to schedule. It is allowed to fester for days and weeks before being picked up and even then, quite a bit of it is left behind because the garbage pick-up trucks are overflowing.
The other part of the problem, and arguably the larger component, is the attitude of Bangalore’s residents. Even when there is a trashcan in plain sight (outside fast-food restaurants, for example), no one bothers to use it. Wrappers are strewn on the sidewalk, banana peels fly out of rolled-down windows of cars, and straws are dropped nonchalantly on the streets, as are plastic drinking cups. Empty sites are promptly co-opted to be garbage-dumping sites (“flip that garbage over the fence, no one is watching”).
It’s definitely not the case that Bangaloreans are not clean. Oh, no! They all keep their houses clean, the fronts of their houses clean, their backyards clean. But this attitude toward cleanliness just doesn’t translate to keeping the streets clean, keeping the community clean, not dumping garbage in the neighbor’s empty site, and not dropping garbage on the streets wherever one feels like it. I’m talking about people with education and with good jobs, the ones that are supposed to know better.
Sometimes as I’m walking or riding around Bangalore, I look at the people–on the streets, on bikes, in buses, in carts–and I think where does one even start if a sizeable portion of them is to be educated on how to properly dispose of garbage or not to defecate on the streets. When people are worried about basic things like where their next meal is going to come from, safe drinking water, and a roof over their heads, proper garbage disposal, I’m sure, does not even figure on their lists.
But the other portion of the population – the ones with the education, the jobs, and the ones that don’t lack the basic amenities – surely, they have no excuse!