India is a land of great wealth and great poverty. The juxtaposition of riches and deprivation is one of the first things that strike the foreign visitor, or even the Indian who has lived abroad for a while. Our earlier reputation of a land of caste, cows and cobras stems from the perception of these inequalities, which remain despite our transformation into a yet-to-be permanent member of the U N Security Council.

These vast inequalities are moral failures of post-independence India. However, this article is not about such glaring failures but of 'everyday failures,' i.e., our inability to conduct the small things of daily life with a modicum of decency and efficiency.

Consider public sanitation (or the lack of it), which, as we all know, is one of the worst traits of urban India. The stench of open sewage is a familiar smell to most Indians. Even my Bangalore neighbourhood, which is relatively clean and retains some of its traditional charms, has plenty of street corners in which garbage is piled up high. If you thought that poor sanitation is a feature of private neighbourhoods, think again. The Indian Institute of Science campus, which is one of the most prestigious and beautiful academic settings in India if not the world, is full of open garbage dumps. While we often keep our houses spotlessly clean, Indians, from top to bottom, do not seem to care about public cleanliness. The same can be said about our flouting of traffic rules, our tolerance of noise and dust, everyday rudeness, the list goes on.


We have personalised public space. From political parties to business houses, we have turned public entities into family endowments.


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