Crazy solutions to public problems
What if all honkers of horns are forced to listen toan ear-splitting 20-minute symphony of car horns?
In the July 9 IMHO column, I wrote about Alacrity, the builder in Chennai who didn't pay bribes, and became famous for a full-page ad in which he shone the light on every government official who had sought a bribe by naming and congratulating everyone who hadn't. Uncommon solutions to egregious Indian public behaviours that make our world seedy, shoddy and disrespectful have been on my mind since then.
Here is my list of abhorrent public behaviours.
- Honking horns.
- Peeing in public.
- Postering public structures.
- Groping women in public transport.
Here are my uncommon solutions for these common behaviours. Some require the public to pitch in, but most require no more than a clear directive from a high-ranking police officer.
Solution: A 20-minute ear-splitting symphony of honking horns.
Since everyone is guilty, police should wave down random honkers to start with. The final group should have rich and poor, seedy and suited alike. As soon as there are 10 offenders, they should be herded to a special 'music room' in the police station, seated, given earphones and warned that anyone found removing them will have their wrists tied behind them with a twist wire.
For the next 20 minutes, they will be treated to a specially recorded, ear-splitting, cacophonic symphony of a 100 horns blaring simultaneously. For most people, the 20 minutes lost will alone be as annoying as the horn symphony.
If done diligently for six months, I guarantee a sharp decline in noise pollution.
Spitting anywhere, anytime
Solution: A forehead tattoo that says thookiya.
Everyone loves a tattoo, and humankind has a healthy tradition of marking people on their foreheads. It's called a stigma. The police will need trained tattoo artists with slow-fading ink that will last ten days or so. Pull the offender aside, and have the word thookiya neatly tattooed on his forehead. Repeat offenders will get the tattoo on their arms and other ways. (Note: Interestingly, there isn't a special word in Hindi for 'one who spits'. This was suggested by a friend.)
Littering anywhere, anytime
Solution: 20 minutes litter-picking on the spot
This is straightforward. He who litters will pick up litter. All pleas of dying relatives, emergency surgery, heart disease, job interviews and exams must be ignored. He or she will receive a bag which must be filled to bulging with other people's litter and returned.
Peeing in public
Solution: Social service at the nearest public toilet for 20 minutes.
The felons in this case must be trotted off to the nearest Swachh Shauchalay, given a bucket and a mop and put on duty cleaning the public toilet's tiled floor and walls. Timing is important — they should not be let go till they have clocked a full 20 minutes.
Asking for a bribe
Solution: Call a friend. Loudly. On the spot.
This one calls for some modest skill on your part, and a box of mithai in your bag. Remember that these days, bribes are sought obliquely, since a direct ask means trouble. You might find your paperwork delayed, permissions held up or slowed down.
Here are your options —
If a bribe is directly sought, pick up your phone and call someone, anyone, and loudly, have this conversation: "I think this gentleman [insert name] at the [insert department] is asking for a bribe. Should I give it to him, or should I just give him a box of mithai?"
If the bribe is sought obliquely, your phone conversation should change to: "He says my work will take time. Do you think he is asking for a bribe? Should I give him a box of mithai right away just to be safe?"
Defacing public surfaces with posters
Solution: Poster every square inch of the offender's office with difficult to remove glue.
Brand new structures are covered with posters within days. Since all of them give a name and number — a math tutor, an astrologer, a new movie — police must visit the advertiser and cover every square inch of his office's inner and outer walls with the same poster, using glue that won't come off without leaving shreds and patches. Inviting local media to cover the event is a good idea and releasing pictures to WhatsApp and Facebook is even better.
Groping women in crowded trains and buses
Solution: Grope the groper.
This only works if the woman calls out the groper, and the other passengers have read this column and share her outrage. For the rest of the bus ride, people around the groper should grope his face — nowhere else. They should do it in a friendly, firm way, telling him, "Never, ever disrespect a woman again."
Here, viewed from there. C Y Gopinath, in Bangkok, throws unique light and shadows on Mumbai, the city that raised him. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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