Posts Tagged ‘Civic Sense’

There are indeed instances in one’s life which leave one shaken and stirred. Scales fall from one’s eyes. Like Bertie Wooster, one feels befuddled, bewildered, fazed, flummoxed, and perplexed. The reality of one of the several facets of life gets revealed, much like a mountain making a reappearance once the fog has vanished and the sun has come out in all its glory.   

While travelling in a local train in Switzerland recently, I had a rather unpleasant experience when a gentleman of Swiss origin ridiculed me for being an Indian.

It happened on the 1st of January 2023. The family had boarded a train to Lucerne to enjoy the fireworks display in the evening hours. Few stops before Lucerne, very many people boarded the train. We are used to overcrowding in trains in India, but this was a new experience for me – to see this happening in one of the advanced countries. I was already sitting on one of the few spring-back chairs available.

A gentleman, surely cast in the mould of Roderick Spode, had just come in along with many others. He looked at me sternly and asked me to get up. I got up and enquired if the gentleman wanted to occupy the seat. The gentleman clarified that he had asked me to stand up so that there is more space for others to squeeze in. So far, so good. But then he went on to give me a supercilious look and added rudely that such things happen only in India.

The basic message from the gentleman was right, but the rude and insulting way he said it hurt all of us. The fact that he insulted my country really hit hard. My daughter-in-law and my son intervened to say that he could have discussed this cordially, rather than being abrasive about it. But he went on arguing about it, claiming that he had spent a good deal of time in India and knew about how things worked there. Other passengers nearby kept telling us to avoid listening to his comments.

To give him a benefit of doubt, perhaps he had had a fight with his wife before leaving home that evening. However, a realization also dawned – that beneath a veneer of polite manners and sweet smiles, quite a few people in other countries may carry some deep-seated prejudices against those of Indian origin.

Jeeves would concur with me if I were to say that our psychology is such that when we love something, we somehow feel entitled to criticize it and make fun of it. But when someone else does it, we take offence! We are left twiddling our thumbs. I confess this is what happened to me on the day. I felt deeply embarrassed and wondered what I had done to deserve a treatment of this kind.

I admit I am a bit fluffy headed and forgetful, but by no stretch of imagination can I match the high standards set by Lord Emsworth in that department. I found it very difficult to forget this incident. On the contrary, it made me recollect many earlier instances when I did not have a satisfactory response to some meaningful and thought-provoking questions asked about India by those living abroad.

  • A cabbie in New York asking me as to why the government in the country was against Muslims and Christians.
  • A tourist from Canada who had just returned from India asking why the cab drivers in most parts of the country tended to either overcharge or harass customers. I wonder if she had ever lapped up the book ‘India and the Indians’, written by Lady Malvern who had spent some time in India.  
  • A young lady in Norway enquiring whether it was safe for her to travel to India alone. She quoted frequently reported rape and murder cases in the country she had read about.
  • Another lady in Sweden checking as to why Indians have a practice of shaming the victim in a rape case rather than putting the spotlight on the perpetrator of the crime.
  • A person of German origin asking if our metro cities did not have enough storm drains to ensure that periodic flooding did not take place.
  • A movie enthusiast of French origin enquiring why, despite the presence of a film certification body, people kept calling for boycotts of some movies. She wondered how Indians have become so intolerant, especially when they pride themselves on being an ancient civilization and have really demonstrated how to be a multi-ethnic society.
  • A teenager from Denmark asking why Indian households do not segregate their domestic waste and why the country lacks enough capacity to handle such waste.
  • A person from Denmark who asked me why India was so noisy.
  • A group of businesspersons from Finland wondering why it was far easier to deal with businesses in the west and the south of India than with those in the north of the country. Some of them said they had been cheated by the latter.

What I quote above happen to be snippets of conversations with lay citizens of different countries, spread over the past few years. Those of us who believe we have already acquired the status of a Vishwa Guru – A Global Teacher – and who are swayed by the nationalistic fervour so very fashionable in India these days, may immediately jump to enquire who gave the rights to people in advanced countries to judge India and Indians. They might even suspect and allege a global conspiracy to defame India.

It is no one’s case that our First World countries happen to be perfect. Of course, these suffer from many ills. Graffiti in public spaces is a common sight. So are cigarette butts in otherwise pristine public gardens.

But the point here is that if we Indians can ape the west in terms of fashion, social relationships and in so many other ways, why can’t we do something about the kind of courtesy we show to tourists and fellow citizens in public spaces? Why do we need a Prime Minister to tell us to improve our levels of hygiene and keep our public spaces spick and span? Why can’t we respect the law, rather than priding ourselves in breaking it? Why do our political parties depend on criminals to win over the voters? Why do justices of our Supreme Court have to get involved in ensuring that road safety standards improve across the entire country? Why are we worried about elections and inane internal issues when an enemy is gleefully usurping our territory on our borders? The mind boggles.     

We live in a multipolar world where interdependence between countries is an essential fact. Yes, as a country, India remains a work-in-progress. But we have tremendous soft power, whether in terms of our ancient scriptures, rich culture, music, dance, movies and the like. The diverse cuisine we have is popular across all countries. When it comes to frugal engineering, we shine on the global stage. The manpower we offer to the world is unique in many ways.

It is surely not wrong to be proud of our heritage. Nor is it improper to demand respect from others. But to remain blissfully unaware of our weaknesses and to do nothing to address the same will simply go on to ensure that chinks in the Brand India armour continue to fester.

A sister of Bertie Wooster’s lives in India. It follows that he would be gravely concerned about this situation. Perhaps, he may seek Jeeves’ advice on the issue. If so, I wonder if Jeeves would recommend a public relation campaign to improve India’s brand image worldwide. He may also suggest a mass communication drive within the country and ways to make a genuine effort to improve our civic infrastructure. Someone like Rupert Psmith may get one of his rich uncles to buy out a premier media house in a western country.

But the nub of the matter is that we, the Indians, need to indulge in a bout of introspection, and work upon improving our own civic habits and our behaviour towards others. The buck stops at us!

(Illustration courtesy R K Laxman)

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Commandments MosesI am the Lord

I am the heaviest vehicle on the road. I am the Lord and Master of what I survey. Others are mere mortals and slaves, born merely to be swatted like flies and crushed like ants.

Right of Way

Roads are meant only for vehicles to ply. All others are a distraction. Pedestrians, cyclists, manual and animal-driven vehicles do not have the right of way.

See the Light

Once headlights are switched on, even if in broad daylight, all misdemeanors, sins, omissions and commissions of the vehicle concerned shall stand condoned.

Not to remember the Order in vain

• The slowest moving vehicle shall stick to the median. Faster moving ones, specifically two-wheelers, have the right to overtake from the left hand side.

• While overtaking, a gap of more than six inches shows a deficiency in one’s driving skills.

• Treat driving like living life. Thread your way through dense traffic and tough situations. Hone your zig-zag driving skills with gay abandon.

• Surrender yourself to the Almighty while entering a main road from a side road; only the feeble-hearted pay attention to the vehicles speeding on the main road.

• When the median divider is too far off, two wheelers may move in opposite lanes. This reduces their carbon footprints.

• When throwing used cans, polythene bags, chocolate wrappers and banana skins from a moving vehicle, never look back.


Commerce is God

Any vehicle speeding off on an errand to deliver goods has to be treated with utmost respect and deference. A vehicle ferrying mere mortals is expected to show better respect to all commercial vehicles. Means of transport used by our beloved politicians and bureaucrats are exempt from following this Commandment.

Knights in Shining Armors

All mighty warriors speeding off on their magnificent chariots can change lanes without giving any signal or indication. This way, others’ driving skills and alertness remain upgraded at all times.

Silence is not Golden

• Honking is encouraged at all times. Use of ordinary factory-fitted horns is frowned upon. Pressure horns are the only way to make your presence felt on the roads.

• Using a cell phone while driving shows your multi-tasking skills in a positive light.

Where the Mind and the Heart are Free

Helmets and seat belts are worn merely to avoid paying fines and bribes to the constable on duty. The mind and the heart have to be always kept free from all encumbrances, so new ideas and feelings would continue to gush in.

Getting out of a Jam

When caught in a jam, ensure jutting into the opposite lane. This would worsen the jam and attract a police officer to finally intervene and clear the way.

Christ Rio_de_Janeiro_4

Be Spiritual, Practice Detachment

When a road accident occurs, be detached. Blame it on the injured person’s karma and leave the site immediately. Avoid becoming answerable to the doctor or the police. Avoid having to face a stern-looking member of the jury at frequent intervals.

All ye denizens of the Third World, follow these commandments and remain in bliss.

(Related Post: https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2011/08/31/drive-regularly-grow-spiritually)

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