Reading about civic-minded people like Rajeshree Rajaram Kamble of Mumbai is heart-warming as you realise that you are not alone in your abhorrence of certain habits of your compatriots. And it’s worse when they export such habits to countries where they go in search of work.
This indefatigable worker of the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai is the civic conscience of the common man. This ‘spit inspector’ can be spotted taking on belligerent adults who almost always are on the defensive when caught in the act. She issues a fine of Rs200 (Dh13.87).
Spitting in a public place is supposedly banned under a 2006 Mumbai bylaw. This must be one of the most obscure bylaws, with few, if any, aware of its existence.
Maharashtra state is one of the few to ban the use of ‘gutka’, a mass-produced mix that is widely chewed and spat out, staining the streets.
Most of the time the person fined is unable to pay the amount, but Rajeshree does not let them off the hook. She asks them to clean their mess. Pay up or wipe away all evidence is her mantra. Any excuse proffered is countered by helpful suggestions.
For example, she will direct them to a source of water and if they ask for other cleaning material, she is known to tell them bluntly to take off their shirt and use it as a mop.
It is amusing to watch people get upset when they are told off for unsocial behaviour. The excuses flow thick and fast and if these don’t work, then it’s best to be aggressive, hoping that the accuser will back off before this macho display.
Perhaps that is why so few dare confront people who behave obnoxiously as they are aware of the possibility of the person making a scene in public. Before you know it, a small crowd has collected and sides are taken. Often the person perceived to be the David against a Goliath is sympathised with even though he may be the one at fault.
The problem is that public space is often seen as an area where your responsibility ends. So, I can litter the place, discard bubble gum at will and not worry about who will clean up the mess.
I really don’t care as long as it’s not me. And the next time I pass by and notice the dirt and graffiti, I shall exclaim loudly over people’s filthy habits, refusing to acknowledge my contribution to the present state of things.
Every now and then we read newspaper articles on a municipality drive against defilement of pavements, roads and walls with spit, betel-stained or otherwise. People are warned against this practice and mention is made of fines. But none of this seems to deter those who are bent on spreading their germs.
I have seen people here open the door of their vehicle at a traffic signal to expel expectorate. Back home this is a common sight but seeing this here is somehow even more offensive.
Even within buildings one sees a similar attitude. People see common areas such as corridors as their personal space. So, children’s bikes and toys will be left strewn all over the passageway, and any objections are met with a cold glance and a look that seems to say, ‘What’s your problem? It’s not like I’m littering your flat.’
To this my unspoken rejoinder is,’If it’s all right with you, tomorrow I’m going to move one of my cupboards into the corridor as it does seem to take up an awful lot of space inside. Would you mind? Just because you leave your children’s belongings outside, it doesn’t mean that I have to do the same. Allow me to be original’.