Crossing Self-Drawn ‘Lakshman Rekhas’
When we look at Indian cities, what strike us the hardest is the lack of cleanliness, hygiene and order. Most parts of most cities in India, are filled with filth and waste. Even relatively clean cities like Bangalore are also fast becoming victims to this problem. Why is this happening?
My research and analysis on the subject of the formation and maintenance of Indian cities led me to some interesting conclusions and facts. While studying communities and neighbourhoods, I found out that a family that occupies a house, maintains the surroundings of their homes only to a distance of around twenty feet. What existed beyond that line was not their concern. This imaginary line, a kind of a ‘Lakshman Rekha’, that divides the private and public realms, plays a very important role in a city’s upkeep.
India’s culture is such that we respect our elders, teachers and mentors so much so that we go to the extent of sometimes touching their feet. However, this ‘culture of paying respect’, does not seem to extend to the cities that we live in. This paradoxical mind-set has resulted in Indian citizens mistreating and even abusing their cities. The blatant violation of traffic rules, dumping of waste and garbage on the streets etc., can hardly be called respectful and progressive acts.
Incidentally, last week, I had the opportunity to travel around the cities of Jaipur, Agra and Delhi. The scale and monumentality of the forts and palaces in those cities are extraordinary. However, what I saw in those cities, as an urban planner, distressed me. Leaving apart the monuments like the palaces and forts, that are maintained under the supervision of government agencies like the Archaeological Department, the rest of the old parts of those cities, is uncared for and is left without adequate maintenance. The attitude, that we can afford to litter our cities while keeping our homes clean, must change. Such a change, in itself, can make most of our present ‘not-so-smart cities’, ‘smart’.
In a few of my articles written in the recent past, I had dealt extensively with the topic of urban planning and in them I had presented a few theories on how I thought, cities should be designed. A well planned city is definitely easier to maintain, if we factor in the maintenance aspects also into the planning. As an addendum to that, I must underline here the importance of sustained maintenance of such planned (for that matter even unplanned) cities, which, in my opinion is no less important than maintaining our own homes.
Some of the most revered cities in the world, like Rome and Paris, that incidentally are also very beautiful, are neither modern nor very ‘smart’. They are loved and respected for their well-maintained ‘old charm’.
Today, India is reverberating with the calls for ‘Swachh Bharat’. If one looks at it impartially, our present Prime Minister’s push for cleanliness, is a wake-up call that has been long overdue. We, as the citizens of this country, each one of us, have a role to play in making sure that the effort succeeds. At this juncture, the one pertinent and serious question that we must pose to ourselves is this: are we ready to erase the self-created imaginary boundary that we have set between private and public spaces, both on the ground and in our minds and to do our bit in keeping our cities clean? Or are we going to expect someone else, like the state and central government agencies, to do it for us?
Anil Bhaskaran is an Urban Planner, Architect and MD of IDEA Centre Architects, Bangalore