Thursday, August 12, 2010


Every time I travel out of India and return I feel good and also bad. I feel good because I am made to feel good by my patients and friends who genuinely miss me and make me feel needed. To be back in your own home, sitting in your favourite chair and doing what you are best at, in your own set environment which you have struggled and built over so many years, has its own charm which nothing can replace.

But for a few days I become very depressed. This is not because I have left behind those who are very dear to me and possibly will not see them for another year or two, or because of the effects of Jet lag, but because of what I see here and what I have seen abroad and despite the knowledge that comparison is bad I cannot help doing it.

The first thing that strikes me is relative absence of squalor and dirt. By this I don’t mean absence of poverty, but sheer human degradation that is present here. The other is our lack of historical sense and appreciation of beauty. We have plenty of places which are worth preserving and showcasing but have no sense to do it and thus allow our own extra ordinarily beautiful heritage places and sites to degenerate.

Americans have developed some new habits since I visited them last. One is the extensive use of bottled mineral water and it is common to see water being supplied to households periodically. This I felt was unnecessary in a country where supply of clean water is the norm and only adds to the recycling burden. I also noticed many carrying metal water bottles instead of plastic ones when they are out of their homes. The habit of drinking gallons of thin and tepid coffee seems to have grown. They also seem to be taking to drinking more wine. I found on my drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco thousands of acres of newly laid vineyards and my comment that they are converting precious water into wine was well taken.

Universal use of tissue paper for cleansing from top to toe has only increased. I used to see few still using handkerchiefs in my earlier visits. This time however I found none. How many trees are sacrificed to meet this avoidable habit? But unlike here I found none who threw the used tissue on to the road side. The roads are thus free of litter which was a joy.

America is heaven for dogs. They come in all shapes and sizes. There were many I just couldn’t identify and walking their dogs is fast becoming the most important pastime for most Americans, at least to the retired community. The locality where I lived there is a club of dog walkers. They start from their homes at the same time and stop at a large public lawn and gossip while their pets do their job and run around [leashed]. The dogshit is carefully picked by the gloved hand of the owner and placed in a plastic bag for later disposal. Here I pick up arguments with such walkers who think my home front is ideal place for their dog ablutions!

One car, one driver mentality persists despite wide appeals for car pooling. But a greater number of smaller cars are on the roads. Four lane high ways are becoming six lanes and the lessons of reducing dependency on this wasteful mode of transport don’t seem to have sunk into the heads of these people. We here are heading towards disaster if we continue to allow the cars to congest our narrow roads. America can indulge in this folly for some more years, but we cannot.

We never seem to learn some basic lessons. Or are we by nature arrogant that we just don’t want to?

More when I write next.


Anonymous said...

"We never seem to learn some basic lessons. Or are we by nature arrogant that we just don’t want to?"

Perhaps people don't draw the same inference as you regarding the benefit/waste trade off. If so, they won't learn the basic lessons you refer to.

Or to the extent they do agree, the marginal cost of their wasteful habit has not increased enough to change their behavior sufficiently (by your standards). If waste does have a cost - economic, environment, or otherwise - people will continue to reduce their consumption over time. In fact, the shift to smaller, more energy efficient cars was a response to the doubling in the price of oil.

And the benefits to most Americans are substantial. Giving up the benefits of having one's own car means less autonomy, convenience, status, etc...a steep price to pay. Especially when the perceived environmental costs are more public than individual at this time.

So concluding people to be arrogant misses the mark (perhaps prematurely). When it comes to driving, most people are acting fairly rationally given the benefits and costs currently laid out before them.

But who knows maybe seeing Brad Pitt and other celebrities drive hybrids encouraged people to trade in their trucks. Maybe you can write Brad and ask him to start taking the bus.

Leslie said...

Ironic that while I was wondering where you were and if you were alright, you were in my country! I'm glad you are safe and are writing again.

It was really interesting to read your post and see how we are perceived by people from other countries. Your observations reminded me of the time I spent in Venezuela, and the observations I, myself, made upon my return.

Gopakumar said...

Uncle, well said, indeed. A useful point to note is that most Western companies that have software development centres or BPOs in India impose their perceptions of hygiene on us. So, tissues are encouraged, for example, though we have a hankies tradition.

Kingram said...

It is not that most western countries who have BPO in India impose their habits on local people. When we (people of Indian origin) go and settle in the western countries we pick up the habit of the local people like using the tissues. How did I not take up this habit even after living more than 40 years in the U.K? I think it is not the western expats impose their habits on local, it is the locals who pick up this habit to show that they are westernised.