Plus & Minus

“A weekly column: Plus&Minus will be published in Hindustan Times, Jaipur Live. This will speak to the ordinary reader on contemporary economic issues in a simple format”.

    Etiquette: Where Do We Stand?
    Hindustan Times, Jaipur Live, July 27, 2009

By Pradeep S Mehta

Much has been said over the recent past in the budget discussions about improving our infrastructure, but no attention was paid to the softer part of our infrastructure, i.e. human behaviour. You walk up to any counter in Jaipur or other cities in India, be it at the post office or airline check in desk or railway or bank counter. People swarm around it like bees, expecting the service person to be like Durga with 10 hands to serve as many people at one time. If one asks the other person to fall in line, then one can expect an indifferent response or even an angry riposte.

Proper civic behaviour is conspicuous in India by its absence. Increasing road rage in our cities is symptomatic of this unhealthy trend because of which we lose many precious lives every year. Even motorists take umbrage of any fault of mild nature. In a case of road rage in Delhi in 2006, a man was fired from a point blank range. The other day a Delhi newspaper carried a report on how a bad driver reversed his car into another. When the person whose car was hit blew his horn to register his protest, the former came out with a hockey stick and bashed up the latter’s car coupled with choicest throaty expletives. Similar incidents have been reported from all our cities, including Jaipur, when an MLA beat up an officer of the state government at the Gandhinagar crossing a few years ago.

In very thought provoking speech, former President Dr APJ Abdul Kalam said at Hyderabad in October 2006: “In Singapore you do not throw cigarette butts on the roads or eat in the stores. You pay US$5 for it. You would not dare to eat in public during Ramadan, in Dubai. …You would not dare to speed beyond 55 mph (88 km/h) in Washington and then tell the traffic cop, Jaanta hai, main kaun hoon (Do you know who I am?). I am so and so’s son. You would not chuck an empty coconut shell anywhere other than the garbage pit on the beaches in Australia and New Zealand. Why do not you spit Paan on the streets of Tokyo? …You can respect and conform to a foreign system in other countries but cannot in your own. If you can be an involved and appreciative citizen in an alien country, why cannot you be the same here in India?”

Compared to most other big cities, there is still some sanity in Mumbai on how people drive and even stand in queues. Thanks to Morarji Desai. He was the Chief Minister of the undivided Bombay province in early 1950s. He posted policemen at every busy bus stop whose job was to shepherd people into queues. That has created a legacy of good civic sense. It seems to be working even today, and we can see why. The danda-wielding visible policeman does offer a disincentive for people to break rules. But, is that the only way forward, then so be it a part of every city and state government’s agenda, rather than wait for a big event to happen.

How can any country progress when such type of boorish behaviour is becoming a norm. Our leaders do not even make a whimper to tell people that it should stop. Why? Leaders in India belong to a community that does not set high standards in etiquette for the people to follow.

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