Douwe Osinga's Blog: Dirty Country

Saturday, January 26, 2008

If cleanliness is next to godliness, then India firmly is on the side of godliness; there are temples, churches and mosques everywhere, but keeping things clean is not the countries forte. Yes, and this might come as a bit of shock to some, Switzerland wins this round. It is not for want of trying; you see armies of cleaners everywhere. The impact often just isn't great.

I realize that keeping things clean the way the Swiss do, is a bit of a luxury. If a significant portion of your population lives at 1 dollar a day, you want to take care of that before removing the last plastic bag from the street. On the other hand there is something to be said for clean water for example; millions of children die each year because of contaminated water. In Zurich the lake is officially clean enough to drink from; In India the tapwater is definitely not.

Two days ago we visited Mamallapuram, a town famous for its 7th century temples and rock carvings. It is a lovely typical travelers town at the beach filled with guesthouses and cheap eateries. 'So this is where all the hippies went, when Goa was taken over by Indian tourists' I was thinking when we entered. But it is also dirty. The beach is full of litter, even though the town has a clear incentive to keep it somewhat clean, given how much they rely on tourism for there income.

Tourism here of course has a second leg in the form of the temples and they are kept clean. In a way. I was waiting for my wife to finish some flower photography before entering one of the temples and had an empty coconut in my had, so I asked the guard where there was a dustbin. He pointed to the inside of the temple, but wouldn't let me in until he had punched my ticket, which he only wanted to do two at a time. I asked him what I should do with my coconut meanwhile then. He took the thing and threw it over the wall build around the temple complex. 'Gone' he remarked.