July 31, 2017

The beautiful picture of the typical Bengaluru street is one that I clicked over 15 years ago. And the one above was clicked about 15 days ago, on a beautiful summer's day. The sun’s rays were shining through the trees onto the green carpet below, with the haze of a beautiful lake in the background. You will agree while glancing at just the top half of the frame, that it could have been the perfect picture indeed. But alas, the large heap of foul-smelling garbage below was part of the sad reality.

A week later, when I set out on my morning walk, I was greeted with a carpet of red flowers which the previous night’s rain had brought down from the beautiful gul mohur trees around. My eyes began to feast on the pretty sight – vibrant flowers that Mother Nature had scattered with the night’s gift of rain. Sadly that carpet was soon interrupted by litter, marring what would have otherwise been another beautiful frame.

If I were to choose a caption to describe this malaise that ails our city, it is ‘nature’s beauty, man’s ugliness’. We live in such a beautiful city, but we residents with our ugly habits often end up stripping it of that beauty. That is where #BeautifulBengaluru comes into the scene. It is a citizen’s initiative aiming to drive habits that bring back beauty to the city, with a compelling logo that is both a goal and a call to action to every citizen to ‘be the change’ for a clean, green, safe city.

Litter and waste are high on the list of the city’s problems, and they are high on the list of changes we wish to impart – and here is how. Most residents grumble about the inefficiency of the administration in dealing with garbage. Streets are dirty because they are not swept well or often enough.

Waste is dumped at corners because it is not picked up regularly. But before we point the finger at the authorities, let us stop to think who put that litter and waste on our streets in the first place?

We, the residents! The student hops off the bus and drops her bus ticket on the pavement. The guard cycling home after his shift tosses his pan packet onto the street. The auto-driver picks out his last cigarette packet and tosses the empty packet on the street.The school-boy tosses a juice carton out of his school bus, combining his long-distance throwing skills with target practice. Sadly, even the lady in a BMW rolls down her window to toss an ice-cream cup onto the street, proving that education does not necessarily translate to a sound civic sense! And it is not just empty wrappers and papers that get tossed everywhere, but any kind of discarded item, even footwear! If street-cleaning is not efficient, they lie there for weeks, sometimes becoming part of the landscape!

We seem to be a tribe of chronic litterbugs, and those who do not litter are in a minority. Add to it, there are those who spit as if it is their birth right, or even worse, blow their nose or relieve themselves wherever they feel like. Pet-owners let their pets dirty the pavements, without caring to clean up after them. The scenes that I described are ugly and all of them create a sense of revulsion. Many have perfected the art of the tuning out the reality of our dirty streets, turning the other way as we rush past, trying not to notice. Staying aloof from the problem is a cultivated response to the dissonance created by the dichotomy of our dirty streets and our inner need for cleaner environs. So we turn the other way and that is why the streets remain dirty. And that is where you and I come into the picture. We ourselves may not litter but we do need to play a role in influencing those who do. But first of course, we need to commit never to litter, whatever the circumstances, no exceptions whatsoever.

Having interacted closely with litterbugs over the last two decades with the passion of fostering cleaner spaces and trying to understand their psychology, I place them in 3 categories. A. Those who litter because they do not know that it is not okay to litter. B. Those who do know, but do not care. C. Those who do not normally litter but may do so in an already dirty place, believing it doesn’t really make a difference.

Is it possible to change habits in all these three cases? Yes indeed and through this series, I hope to engage you with the exciting and very fulfilling challenge of influencing those you see littering or spitting to give up the habit. Is it worth the effort? Yes indeed, it is possible to get litter off our streets if we have more anti-litter champions out there and I hope every reader feels compelled to become a soldier in the battle for cleaner streets. Man’s ugliness need not remain that way but can be changed to match Nature’s beauty, because thankfully there is a passionate and growing group of residents wishing to keep our spaces clean. Wherever you live, you can become a change agent to foster clean and green public spaces, if you are not already doing so. And we will be delighted if you connect with us on bebeautifulbengaluru@gmail.com to know more about how you can be a part of this movement for cleaner, greener, safer spaces.  

Text and Images by Odette Katrak


Odette Katrak is a soft-skills trainer, environment & social-change activist and co-founder of #Beautiful Bengaluru, an initiative for a clean, green, safe city