Smart Cities vs Smart People

“A constitutional democracy is in serious trouble if its citizenry does not have a certain degree of education and civic virtue.”

Phillip E. Johnson

You take your car out on a busy street right opposite your society and suddenly, from nowhere, a biker zips past you from the left. As you travel few nervous meters down the lane, a frisky three wheeler cuts right across you to take an illegal u-turn in the one way road. The wait at the adjoining traffic signal is agonising not because of the red lights, but because of the White XUV blaring at its highest decibels. The incessant knocking on the window panes by an impoverished looking kid troubles your noble thoughts early in the morning.

 You wade through the dangerous city streets and manage to somehow reach your office building. A couple of bikers are ready to test patience right at the entrance gate as they dangerously maneuver on the wrong side to enter the building before you. Ohh! You just missed out the gold medal to them..Alas!

Welcome to India.

Yes, you can typecast me for this comment, but indeed we have stood the test of time for being the most “uncivil” of societies in the modern world. Public mannerism and civil etiquettes just don’t have any relevance in this raucous brat called “India”. We are so busy flaunting our growing economy and brand value that we conveniently negate the most important factor of urbanization – civility.

Well, to continue with our story, you reach your office and realise that somebody else has already used the parking space allotted to you. Your search for an alternate space is nothing short of a nightmare. We just don’t like to keep our cars straight. The whole concept of space management goes for a six when a few diligent drivers indulge in diagonal parking.

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The door rams on your face as the man before you is in too much of a hurry to hold the door for you. The lift is a confined space which carries not only men and women but their floated egos along. Neither is one, courteous enough to ask, nor is the other polite enough to request the desired floor. This usually ends up in a ‘fastest finger first’ contest as each one tries to reach over the other to press his button. The fact that one might brush aside a lady or another man in an improper manner is too meager an issue to be bothered inside a lift. After all, what fun it is, if you don’t share the sweet smell of a fellow human odour! The loud noises in the corridor and the stained corners would welcome you to the living deluge of an abrasive, indifferent society. If you are that guy, who would hush, that, abusive friend of yours when a lady passes by, then you shall definitely be ridiculed and called names. We often confuse chivalry with de rigueur and crass with virility.

If there is one element of technology that has defiled the modern society beyond repairs is – the mobile phone. If there was one thing that could compete with a mosquito buzzing right next to your ear, in levels of absolute irritation is a loud ringtone on a cheap mobile phone. The way these hand held technological evils have desecrated human mannerisms is disturbing to say the least. Imagine your quiet journey on a suave Delhi Metro on a sultry summer afternoon. You are in the middle of your million dollar worth power nap and suddenly out of nowhere you hear the most vexatious noise in your surrounding. The same experience might haunt you in a theatre, when the man sitting across the aisle does not think it is in anyway improper to take the most frivolous call during a movie, disturbing most of the people around.

The ringtone is a horrible rendition of the most inappropriate item song remixed to form an indecorous devotional number. The man pulls out the cell phone and yells a “hello” in the loudest possible decibel level. He maintains his high spirits till the end of his conversation grossly indifferent of the inconvenience he might be putting his fellow passengers to. Not his fault, nobody ever told him that!

manners

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Mannerisms aren’t emphasized in our high schools, nor do we bother to teach them to our kids. India is a competitive society, squeezing the last devious return out of every minute in hand. Either we are too busy to waste resourceful minutes on naive frivolity as civic etiquette or we just don’t give a damn! How many of us have seen people waiting patiently in a queue unless there is some supervision or the fear of a mob backlash.

A city’s airports are considered to be the place where you can see the best behavior. Go to any airport in a metro city, check in at a busy hour and try delaying at the check-in counter looking for your passport of ID. You would immediately gauge the standards of public discourse in this country. Or better still, try taking few extra minutes in an ATM counter with a queue outside. We just don’t know how to be patient.

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This crassitude is so evident in most public places, that we have started growing with it. The pseudo-nationalist may curse me for saying it out loud, but we seriously need to “grow up”. The perversity in our glares on a foreign national or the abrasive act of speaking on a mobile phone in the movie hall, they all depict the adolescent that our society is. Not to mention, the obsessive tendency of “touching” ourselves in public.

Recently, we had a commotion in one of the theaters when a couple refused to get up on the national anthem. The issue stormed public discourse for a substantial amount of time. Analyzing the reasons of public angst wasn’t difficult. The most obvious being, that it hurt the patriotic sentiments of people. But, shouldn’t  acts like desecration of statues at public places with advertisement pamphlets, sticking bills on the walls of a war memorial, spitting inside archaeological monuments of national importance, ill treating a war widow, disrespect to a teacher, damaging public property during riots or agitations be considered equally ‘anti-national’. Believe me, the acts mentioned above occur as frequently as they are ignored.

Indian flag on roads

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Most evident and painful are the sight of torn national flags and symbols of national pride after a momentous Republic Day or Independence Day celebration.

Places where public mannerism and etiquettes are molested on a daily basis are the public transportation systems. Yes, we do agree, that we have a problem of plenty, but that does not give, men the leverage to bump upon women, elderly and children to get into a bus or a metro. Some people take it their ego, when it comes to hopping into a bus or a metro. It gives them an utter sense of achievement when they wade through women, elderly, children and differentially abled persons to get into a public transport. The sense of achievement is quite evident in their face. No guilt, no remorse, absolutely no sense of shame, just the smile of mere satisfaction, of having achieved the ‘impossible’. Chivalry died long ago in this part of the world. There are rare instances of seat offering and ‘after you’ etiquettes.

If we don’t consider mannerisms and etiquettes as part of our evolution process, then we shall grow, but grow into an uncivilized mass. The value for each other will decrease rapidly with each passing day. We need to lay emphasis on the aspects of public order and discipline in our discourse.

Extreme steps wouldn’t be too painful at this stage, where we could still mend our ways before its too late to contemplate. School syllabuses should cover the aspects of civic sense diligently. Citizenry workshops should be organized for defaulters as well as volunteers at the municipal corporations or commissionerate levels. Driving etiquettes and knowledge on basic traffic rules be made compulsory for all obtaining a driver’s license.

The police needs to be equally educated in these aspects. The police needs to be exemplary instead of the present status, wherein they are at the bottom of the chart when etiquettes are concerned. The so called ‘officer cadre’ in the police forces must educate the men under them to learn to behave first, in order to earn the respect. Nobody respects a tobacco chewing, shabbily dressed, staff trotting khaki clad man loitering on the streets. They might not even fear him.

I would not like to put up a comparison here, but certainly the west is a far more civilised society than us. Admitting the faults in our upbringing can only help us change for the better. Vacuous chest thumping and nationalist cries won’t make us a great nation. Introspection and correction would.

We may spend crores of rupees on cleaning Ganga and Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, but until we imbibe the culture of a civilized society and value the importance of civility on our education system we may find ourselves in the same spot.

The fear of the law and a pride in doing what we ought to do in public can only mend things in India. Modern societies have not matured overnight. They have lived through the phase we are living now. The sad part of the story being, that our civilisation is a historically much older civilization than theirs.

Yes, education will bring in difference, but so will public rebuttal and shaming of people who act in such manner. Public mannerisms need to be given more weightage in the primary and secondary education curriculum. Remember, our children learn from us.  We have to get these things into our discourse. We have to talk about these issues and make people aware of things that aren’t supposed to be done in most instances.

We can claim to be a relatively new nation, but certainly not a new civilization. We may aim for smart cities, but if the people residing in them are not smart enough, then the richness is more of a crass. Investing in people is as important as investing in infrastructure. We must not forget that the most important resource of ubanisation is, the citizenry.

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