Friday, September 19, 2014

Spits and guts

"Mumbai Commuters, if you spit at the station, clean it yourself"   : Railways
So said a headline on September 19, 2014.

Easier said than done. Though this time, the cleaning staff  seems to be a the end of their tether, dealing with people who spit paan, spit and strew garbage all over the place,  asking anyone who objects,  "Kya yeh aapke baap ka hai ?"   .......

Took me back a few years. In fact, decades.

She was in her 70's.  Brought up with solid old world values, in a no nonsense way, she was appointed as one of the trustees of a very large well known temple trust in her hometown. The first woman trustee in its history.  She was known to all the older employees of the various temples, since she had been a devotee for more than 25 years and very regular. Back then , besides coming to worship, she also noted things like deforestation and encroachment on one of the hill temples, and met the concerned folks, got folks to donate trees, and in general was proactive. In a rare acknowledgement by the authorities, she was honored as a trustee in her mid 70's.

A beautiful historical heritage temple complex was renovated and notices about cleanliness put up all over the place.  When she was on her routine visit daily, everyone was on their toes, minding their duties , looking earnest, and so on. And one day, she saw a new young  priest intern, walking out from the sanctum santorum, across the courtyard, with a bucket of stuff. As he walked amidst the visitors, he turned and spat on the floor. And walked away.

She had him called back. Asked him to bring a bucket of water , a mop, soap , and so on.  And in front of everyone,  had him clean up a square metre around the spot.  He was told, that people looked up to him, and he should set an example rather than  flash his special position in such a uncaring manner.  Cleanliness. Godliness. Rules would be followed, if people saw him following them. Else we had no business putting up signs, and fining people and so on.

People watched. 

The lesson was learned. The other employees too learned a valuable lesson. The older employees nodded in approval.    Five years later, after an entire period where she questioned  purchases, and contracts given with an eagle eye, asked inconvenient questions, asked for references of previous work done, from people receiving work contracts,  the usual system kicked in, and she was replaced, by a person, who was actually once blacklisted by her as a vendor.

The system had sunk to its lowest level.  

She is no more, since the beginning of this century.  But many still talk about her and shake their head about what the world has come to.       

The effort of the railways is commendable.  The test will be in the implementation.  We as a country insist on enjoying the benefits because there is an element of "free" in it. We refuse to take responsibility.  What is not ours is open  to abuse.  Ask anyone who told a neighbor on the next seat, not to throw litter out of the bus or train window.  Ask anyone who is occupying 2 seats himself/herself, and is asked to shift.

You can fine people.  But there will be a subset of folks who will pocket them and shut their eyes.  Who will monitor these guys ? Extrapolate the thought and you will conclude that the top most person in authority must be spotless.  For the honesty to trickle down.

In the meanwhile,  at a busstop, I noticed a bike rider, trying to drive between the bus and the busstop, endangering embarking and disembarking passengers.  This is a common occurrence in Mumbai.   When I stopped him, and berated him, he glared through his helmet and asked ,"Kya yeh aapke baap ka rasta hai ?"......

I glared back, and told him, that it was not just my father's road (baap ka rasta), but my road too, since I paid municipal and vehicle taxes.  This was my bus,  my bus passengers. And there was no free-for-all.  As it often happens, the passengers gathered around, there were words. We got into the bus.

I wonder how many such altercations there will be at stations, stairs and escalators, between pan chewers, spitters , and ordinary public , not to mention, those monitoring such things.

I wonder what people think of political leaders who are shown on TV news chewing away to glory while talking unclearly, and someone suddenly rushing with a spitoon to catch the spitten projectile. 

Some will start flinging accusations, there wil be fights, and typicaly, someone will insist on installing CCTV's  on staircases and stations, as is the current fashion.  ( I have often suspected someone close to powers-that-be to be in the CCTV business)

What we need, is an example. Like the priest intern. 

And some fearless person, like the old lady . 

Wait and watch.

Mumbai CommurtersMumbai commuters, if you spit at the station, clean it yourselves: Railways - See more at:


  1. Rules are made to be broken, didn't you know, Suranga? I had blogged about it a long time ago, here

  2. very very hard to control in a country like ours with over whelming that guy who questioned you, 90 % of our population is like has to start at home and keep continuing as we grow up....and again, easy to say and impossible to implement..:(

  3. I used to ask people to stop smoking in public transport as a matter of reflex. I have stopped eve-teasers in their heinous enterprise a few times and remember having landed in a life-threatening spot once.

    Punishment has two significant functions, justice and deterrence. However, when things fall apart the way they are happening in our fearless country, deterrence is a notion of much superior value than justice for the longer good of the species. You only have to enforce the rule.