A. MADHAVAN writes from San Francisco: Foreign travel stimulates the mind and the senses. We are constantly asking ourselves, how does this experience match with what we are used to at home?
Whether during the transit halt of three hours at Changi airport in Singapore or in the angst-inducing Hongkong airport or on arrival at San Francisco, my mind was busy making comparisons.
Take sanitation. I have seldom found functionally efficient sanitary fittings and facilities for the public India. Perhaps it is our hot climate or the humidity, but our pipes and taps begin to leak and the flush system goes dry after a short time.
Plumbing is an area of conspicuous technological backwardness in India. We may be wizards with software, but we neglect to maintain the hardware of elementary sanitation.
A drain will be aligned slightly up a gradient to the municipal drainage, or a public drain, laid under the ground, may be allowed to overflow into the street.
We need drain inspectors like Katherine Mayo and Sir Vidya Naipaul, caustically impolite though they were, to shame us into consciousness of better sanitation.
A park in Kuvempunagar was recently spruced up with paved tiling for the footpaths and plenty of water for the grass and the flowerbeds. Within a month some of the tiles tilted up as if to mock the Corporation, some stalks of grass ventured to peep between tiles, and tap dripped water continuously.
No gardeners were there to take stop the criminal waste of water, when women in some suburbs have to get up at 3 a.m. and fill their pots in a repeated ordeal of patience and pugnacity.
(When we complained to a stray attendant of a similar leakage in Cheluvamba park, he said we should go the Water Works department. When I reported to the Chescom office about street lights burning in the blazing day, I was asked to go to the Corporation.)
Yet our construction workers can put up stunning new buildings with granite and marble and plate glass glittering to glory. Go abroad east or west, and you find that the toilets not only work, but are kept functional and clean.
On planes in the economy class, one has to bear with the inevitable queue, the selfish passenger who hogs the facility and the uncouth one who leaves it unclean.
Even so, I found on the long Cathay Pacific flight that a stewardess would come and clean up the place and spray a deodorant for good measure.
And Changi’s toilets are kept sparkling clean by vigilant staff night and day. It is another matter that Singapore vigilance is particularly harsh on those who forget to pull the flush after use.