Sri Lanka So Swachh, You’ll Freak! Even Monkeys Play Important Role To Keep It Clean?
Mangaluru: If you compare Sri Lanka with India, at least for one reason, Sri Lanka is Way…Way…Way cleaner than India- and I was surprised being my maiden visit to this picturesque and magical world, called Sri Lanka. Sri Lankan’s don’t need any awareness programmes on Cleanliness, unlike even after way too many awareness programmes or Walkathon/Marathon to spread the message on Cleanliness, India is yet to become a change when it comes to CLEANLINESS?
Standing in line at the immigration counter upon arrival, my eyes started to wander, observing the type of travellers visiting. Families with kids, groups of guys who look more Indian, Europeans, Chinese, Koreans, solo travellers and couples. COUPLES! There were a lot of them. Looking at my own queue, I noticed that they were all couples and started counting how many exactly. 1..2..3..4..5..6..7..8…8! before another solo traveller stood in line, and again another couple before me. Seemed like a “Honey Moon” destination for couples, right after their wedding day or on their anniversaries.
Clean and Colombo- What a Combo? But what I noticed during my six-day stay recently in Sri Lanka (Colombo and Kandy ) from 19 September- 23 September was Safety, Cleanliness and Sumptuous Food- for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner! In recent years, the world has read a number of rape cases that happened in India and naturally, people worry and are afraid. India also gets a bad rep for their hygiene and cleanliness. Sorry to say that, but why can’t Indians change their lifestyle and manners, even though they are more educated and well-to-do than rest of the people in the world. Though in fact Sri Lanka and India are two different countries, but probably because of its close proximity and share a few similar ethnicities, they are often being compared. When I told my friends about this trip, their reaction was more or less the same “huh….is it like India? Are they all Indians there? Is it safe? Clean or not? How about the food and taste uh?…..”.
Having little to no knowledge about Sri Lanka, but I told my friends when it comes to Cleanliness, Sri Lanka stands top and First- and no doubt about it. And regarding safety, I think you don’t have to worry about in Sri Lanka, because at every nook and corner you could see cops hanging around trying to bust traffic rule offenders or any troublemakers. And these cops were friendly too, except that you could communicate more provided you are fluent in the Sinhalese language. I walked the streets alone after evening hours from the hotel wandering around the city streets, and it felt safe- nothing to worry about. It did help that there are police posts across the city, and in the alley where we stayed at. And surprisingly, I also noticed some local women breastfeeding their child in public areas eg, in bus shelters and no men would even glance at them. As a matter of fact, I noticed them turning their heads away when a lady needs to breastfeed.
And talking about Cleanliness, it is Down to cleanliness, I myself was surprised at how clean the country is. Sure there was litter scattered around, but I have not come across a reeking pile with flies hanging around. Even in Colombo’s most hectic shopping area where delivery men weave in and out what seems like maze, shops with all sorts of things, the streets were considerably clean. I am not sure if it is throughout the day though I have seen cleaners sweeping the streets, getting rid of rubbish at sunrise, during the day or even when the night has fallen. The public toilets did not smell awful either, like our Kudla e-toilets or the ones in southern Railways? I guess people use their common sense to keep their country clean- and that’s exactly what we need here in India, and even Mangaluru. An awareness programme for a day or the Swachh Abhiyan carried out by Ramakrishna Mission for few months will surely not serve the purpose- and I bet PM Modi’s dream of making India clean by 2 October 2019 on 150th Birth Anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi will NOT be His Cream Come true?
And the other funniest but the cleanest thing I noticed was even monkeys near temples and shopping areas also play an important role in trying to keep their nation clean, where they pick up the garbage accidentally littered by the people. I spent an hour near a busy temple and shopping area, where quite a few monkeys hang around and have their ball. The funniest thing I noticed that every 10-15 minutes when people are not around, a few of these “Jumping Jacks” rush to the garbage bins, open the lid, bend it toward them, and grab the ‘a la carte’ they need, take it to their resting spot and enjoy their sumptuous meal. And after a few minutes, it’s back to the same game. No doubt these monkeys are also the reps of “Swachh Sri Lanka?”
Another thing you need to worry is about your Dress code- because at certain places if you visit you are out of luck if you are not wearing the appropriate dress, especially wearing shorts few inches above your knee level. The only time I felt slightly uncomfortable was walking around Kandy city in shorts. Since I had given my two pants for laundry at the hotel and the only clean bottom left was a pair of shorts. So having no choice, I wore it out despite being aware of their culture. Walked around the whole day and didn’t felt out of place until dusk while walking near a shopping place near a Buddha Temple, a lady raised her voice, pointed at my shorts and asked where my pants are. A word of apology came unconsciously before I scurried through the streets back to our bus while she continuously pointed at her ankle asking me to put on long pants. On the way back, I looked around to check if anyone else was in shorts and, NO, none of them was. Not even tourists. Wow- No Pants. No Entry. No Service! Remember that, “While in Rome Do as the Romans do”, similarly “While in Sri Lanka do and dress as Sri Lankans Do?”
But I would like to mention one instance, where when I was walking by the side of a road near a Casino in my shorts, a motorcyclist driving in an opposite direction drove relatively fast and stopped right in front of me. A group of teenage boys walking past looked at me and said “sexy”, then laughed between themselves. These were all done deliberately to annoy rather than harass though. They happened rarely, and the majority of the locals were either friendly or indifferent to my presence.
One thing I was not comfortable with was that when having local snacks at local eateries in Kandy, they will serve you a plate of assorted pastries and the people just eat whatever they want, charged accordingly, then the leftovers will be put back on shelve until the next customer comes before they serve the same again. It probably will be more acceptable if they provide tools to grab the pastries, but people were picking them up with their bare hands, checking which one is fresher and putting it back on the plate after they have touched them. Imagine there are people who lick their fingers after finishing the food or men come back after urinating and using the same fingers, touch the food which another customer might pick up. Gross.
I feel that the average city or town in Sri Lanka tends to be far cleaner than its Indian counterpart. I can already hear some of the arguments against what I say – India is a far bigger country, we are grappling with a population of over a billion and Conservancy is a greater challenge in such a context. I have no disagreement over any of these. But if a Chennaiite who lived all his/her life in Chennai, visits Colombo and finds it is interesting to see how this neighbour – just a 50-minute flight away – manages to be so clean. Or for that matter, as a Mangalorean like me, taking a flight from Bengaluru and reaching Colombo within an hour, and finds Colombo much cleaner than Mangaluru or Bengaluru. Surprising isn’t it?
When it comes to things like cleanliness, public transport or urban sanitation, you usually tend to turn to the West for benchmarks. When you speak of the Bengaluru Metro, you are secretly hoping it would be like the London tube network one day. When you speak of doing road trips, one of your friends will tell you how he drove for 14 hours in the States with no sign of fatigue. Similarly, when it comes to how clean a city is, even if we have to consider examples closer to Indian City like Chennai, we point to a developed country like Singapore.
However, here is a Country right next door, with very similar challenges as any other developing South Asian country, that takes its cleanliness very seriously. You may have a million differences with Sri Lanka – for patriotic, political or ideological reasons, but you have to give it to the conservancy agencies here and larger civic sense of citizens for maintaining the city this way. For sure, Sri Lanka, the Cleanest Asia’s country I have ever been apart from home, Kudla- even though I had been to Singapore and Thailand- they too are also clean. But I can say that Colombo- Sri Lanka is a city where even a stray piece of trash on the road will surprise you, a place where cleanliness is only enhanced by the greenery all around. I have seldom seen anything synthetic on the roads – no polythene bags being chauffeured around by the breeze, no food packets with rice spilling out, no disfigured mineral water bottles. I could only spot a few dry leaves popping up on the pavements.
And invariably, I would also hear a sort of brushing sound – it was the conservancy worker’s large, fork-like bamboo broom toiling over the broad concrete pavement. A middle-aged woman, wearing an orange t-shirt, like many conservancy workers here, would not spare even a single dry leaf. And during a chat in the sightseeing bus, the guide told me about an army person, who fought hard and defeated the LTTE and became a hero. I am not sure I agree with him entirely. But I do know one hero for sure – the middle-aged woman I spot every morning next to our hotel Cinnamon Lakeside-Colombo, who with her broom, coaxes every little leaf on the pavement to step away and make way for the pedestrian. I wish we had such a kind of Pourakarmika here in Mangaluru? It’s time that we learn cleanliness from Sri Lankans-period! Only if we use our civic/common sense, we too can have a CLEAN & GREEN Country like Sri Lanka- forget about all the Swachh Bharath Abhiyan and other awareness programmes on Cleanliness.