I was in London some time ago on a short visit and happened to witness an incident. A very trivial one, but it set me thinking. I was taking a walk in one of the suburbs and there was this teenage girl ahead of me taking her pup for a walk. As is its wont, the pup decided to use that moment to relieve itself. The girl took a paper bag from her pocket, cleaned up the mess and then walked on to the nearest bin to dispose of the poop!

What would have happened in our country? Not hard to guess! What specially impressed me was that this was a teenager. This is an age when there is a natural tendency to rebel but this civic sense was so deeply ingrained in her that she didn’t think twice about acting the way she did.

Whereas we are enthralled by many things western they do not include the sense of responsibility those citizens have. What about traffic rules? Every single user of the road in India seems to feel that the road belongs to him or her, be it the automobile driver, the two-wheeler user or the pedestrian. At night, every driver tries to outshine the vehicles coming in the opposing direction! And the incessant honking which we all know is of no use at all. Even when the traffic is chock-a-blok! Compare that with the disciplined silent driving in most other countries. Foreigners who visit our country are appalled at our driving. Remember what Oprah Winfrey said when she was asked to comment on what she didn’t like about India!

Public place behaviour is another such example. How many times do we see co-passengers in trains talking loudly, with no consideration for our eardrums! And when children cry loudly or disturb others, they look on indulgently with a proud smile. Of course, our children are lovable even when they are a public nuisance! It is a common practice to drag our children to hot, stuffy, crowded places and torture both the child and the lookers-on!

When I used to have private consultation, many couples would enter my room with kids. And both parents would look on indulgently as the child pulled down everything on my table including my stethoscope. While I grit my teeth and try to smile! Later on I quit this façade and asked them to refrain from bringing children into the consultation room. This has caused many people to look at me with shocked faces!

On mobile phone etiquette, the less said the better — the entire world is a mouthpiece! The other day, I read that a cashier in a supermarket abroad refused to serve a customer until she had finished speaking on the phone. And though the supermarket management chastised the cashier, even top political leaders deplored the action of the customer and reiterated the importance of phone etiquette.

Civic sense or rather the lack of it has been widely discussed and somehow it is an undisputed fact that we Indians don’t seem to care much for it. This attitude cuts across all ranks and sections. We don’t think it deserves much importance. People today are so driven towards their personal goals that civic sense as an ethic has become a low priority, almost nuisance.

Many people think that civic sense is just about keeping our surroundings and roads clean. No, it is much more than that; it consists of abiding by laws, showing respect to and consideration for fellow countrymen and maintaining decorum in public places. Civic sense is social ethics. And, alas, right down at the bottom of our list!

(The writer heads the fertility unit at the Trivandrum Medical College and can be reached at drsheilabal@gmail.com)

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