We get what we deserve
Bombayites routinely blame the government for poor facilities, but shy away from questioning our fellow citizens about their attitudes
This is why we can't have nice things. A book with that title was followed by a song by Taylor Swift and a few thousand memes featuring an angry cat. It ought to be printed and framed at every street corner in India though, because the message is so potent.
That cat popped into my mind almost instantly when I read about vandalism on the Bombay-Manmad Panchavati Express. Apparently, just four months after the train got new imported coaches that cost R38 crore, the Central Railway had to pay R9 lakh to repair the damage caused by passengers. Tables had been wrecked, handles were broken, windows smashed, trash bins and mirrors stolen, and even the rubber door wadding had been ripped out.
Reading about that saddened me but didn't surprise me much. It is the kind of thing we have all grown accustomed to, the idea of living with people who have no respect for their surroundings and treat public property with barely disguised contempt. It's why vehicles around us are full of drivers who think nothing of opening their doors on highways in order to spit, why every government office has walls lined with paan stains, and why we are possibly the only country on Earth forced to deploy images of gods and goddesses to dissuade our fellow citizens from defacing, dirtying or destroying something.
Acts of senseless vandalism also reveal an enormous amount of anger that is latent in so much of what we do. Our forefathers may have advocated non-violence, but our idea of protest is never peaceful. Our leaders believe that breaking windows and burning buses is the right way to draw attention to an issue, which is also why people in fancy cars choose to attack windshields or assault people when another vehicle brushes against their own.
The anger we feel is real, and often stems from reasons completely beyond our control. We experience it minutes after we leave our clean and well-maintained homes, when we are confronted with the chaos, dirt and poorly maintained infrastructure that dogs our every step in public. We are inured to filth on the street from an early age and watch as our children get used to this too.
According to Railway officials, it has almost become a practice among travellers to ruin services and facilities. A year ago, headphones were stolen and infotainment displays damaged by passengers on the Bombay-Goa Tejas Superfast Express during its debut run. Washroom fittings were stolen, which shouldn't come as a surprise in a country struggling with poverty despite what the Prime Minister tells Indians abroad. What could possibly explain the wanton destruction though? How could so many of us, confronted with something clean and meant for our own use, find it perfectly okay to deface or damage those facilities without a thought for those travelling with us or after us?
The upholstery of 1,016 armrests was damaged on the Panchavati Express. 536 armrests were wrecked, 179 magazine holders were torn and 23 vestibule doors were damaged, while 50 health faucets, 43 washroom mugs, 25 taps, 37 flush valves, 15 mirrors and 17 dustbins were stolen. I couldn't fathom how this could take place without the collusion of everyone travelling on that train.
Questioning the government, or the BMC, is easy. Criticism of their services is warranted, because that is what they are mandated to offer us. They are paid to do a task that they routinely perform in an incompetent, haphazard, unsatisfying manner. We really ought to lay the blame on ourselves too, unfortunately. We allow services and facilities meant for all of us to be damaged before our eyes, by those we refuse to question. We allow people to spit on our streets with impunity, dirty our surroundings without worrying about censure and get away with reckless acts of vandalism because none of us can be bothered to stop them for fear of repercussion. Our textbooks go on and on about cleanliness and godliness, but our acts in public belie those morals on a daily basis.
Blaming this on a lack of education and civic sense is easy, but our inability to educate those around us is also telling. The Bombay Metro has managed to stay clean and well-maintained for years, primarily because passengers have played the role of watchdogs and prevented acts of vandalism from taking place. We really should extend that supervision to the rest of our country. How else will we ever have nice things?
When he isn't ranting about all things Mumbai, Lindsay Pereira can be almost sweet. He tweets @lindsaypereira Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
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