Some good lessons

‘Next they’ll be charging us for the air we breathe’, observed my friend.

I was savouring the crisp morning air and the sight of nascent blossomed buds in the local park. A well-dressed middle aged man walked on a few paces ahead of me. All of a sudden, he turned, inhaled noisily, then hacked and spat right in the middle of the freshly swept pathway. I was too stultified to feel indignation or fury. Walkers around me rumpled their faces, disgusted, and we went on, one after another, assiduously meandering our way to avoid the veritable pool of spittle.

Another evening, thunder rumbled, lightning blinded and from the menacing black clouds burst forth torrential rain. Stray cats and dogs, their fur dank, ran for dear life. After about an hour, the downpour ended. I went out on an important errand, circumspectly avoiding slush and mud puddles when the sound of a heavy splash startled me. A woman had come out of her palatial house, and was splurging buckets of water on the already flooded area outside the gate. Then she proceeded to mop it with utmost fastidiousness.

Later that day, I flagged an auto rickshaw down and enquired if the driver would take me to a particular destination. ‘Yes’, he said superciliously in the manner of one granting a colossal favour. I got in and he whizzed off at top speed over humps and pot holes. My poor joints and sinews screamed in agony. When I alighted after the ordeal, he demanded three times the actual fare. ‘I won’t get any customers on way back home!’ he said rudely at my weakly voiced protest. I parted with the badgered amount silently, feeling fleeced and needless to say, demoralised.

At a Thai student exchange programme for which a friend was the coordinator, the students had a plentitude of questions about India. ‘Why are the streets so dirty? Why do men urinate in public? Why do people push when in a queue?’ were some of the queries asked to which their hapless teacher had no satisfactory answer.
‘Thailand’s very clean, and the people organised’ they declared. A recent trip to Siam proved that they were indeed telling the very truth, for the country with its intense  tropical sun, sultry clime and coconut, plantain, durian (a cousin of jackfruit’s, I found out) and mango trees, bore a physical semblance to India, distinguishing itself by being immaculately tidy. The roads were litter-free, the bathrooms clean and dry, and no, no one ever micturated by the roadside.

The fact that drinking water comes with a charge comes as a bit of a whammy to many Indians- perhaps because ours is a culture that regards giving someone a drink of water as a sublime deed, making one eligible for suitable rewards in heaven. Conversely, denying someone the same means soliciting the appalling curse of being born a house lizard!

‘Next they’ll be charging us for the air we breathe’, observed my friend. A moot point. However, isn’t putting a prize on the most precious asset on earth -- the life’s elixir, in fact -- the best way of ensuring that it isn’t squandered, thereby leading to water conservation? One is familiar with a few worthies in India who misuse gallons of drinking water for purposes it isn’t intended for- A blatant irony in a country where the commodity is so scarce in some parts that people have to traverse miles on foot for a single pot.

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