notes from Travel


Cleanliness is a habit and a celebration in India’s most ‘swachh’ city

While other airports in India resort to a blend of wordless instrumental and folk tunes that serve as the ambient muzak, Indore’s Devi Ahilya Bai Holkar Airport relies on the mellifluous voice of singer Shantanu Mukherjee, a.k.a. Shaan.

‘Ho Halla’, which was Indore’s Swachhta Anthem song for the Minister for Urban Development’s Swachh Survekshan 2019, has now become a sort of battle cry in the Madhya Pradesh city’s cleanliness-fronted war. And for someone with a borderline cleanliness OCD like myself, spending a few days in Indore was like finding my own personal urban version of Valhalla.

‘Swachhta aadat hai, swachhta utsav hai’ (cleanliness is a habit, cleanliness is a celebration), goes a line from the aforementioned song, which was part of the Indore Municipal Corporation’s (IMC) cleanliness campaign that saw it clinch the title of India’s cleanest city for three years in a row from 2017 to 2019. The song even plays as municipal vehicles go about collecting garbage from households. In fact, I was later told, it is the de facto and mandatory caller tune of the phones of municipal officials and elected representatives.

Tastefully clean!

Now, if Indore’s meandering, perpetually bustling Sarafa Bazaar street were to be a human being, it would most certainly be accused of having a split personality. By day, it is a warren of jewellery shops enticing patrons with gleaming necklaces and rows of stacked bangles.

However, every night at 10, it dons another avatar — that of a street food haven serving up everything from the typically Induri mashed corn and ghee snack called bhutte ka kees, to the molecular gastronomy-influenced ice paan that makes your breath go all frosty thanks to the addition of liquid nitrogen.

But it is also probably one of the only food streets in the world that’s totally devoid of any food detritus. I saw not a single styrofoam plate or plastic cup littering the ground. Every one of the 200-plus food stalls is provided with segregated garbage bins for both dry and wet waste. And once the feeding frenzy winds down way past midnight, municipal trucks with specially fitted, pressured water jets hose down the street, leaving it spotless for the commercial onslaught of the day ahead.

Seven plus one

Interestingly, this newfound cleanliness zeal is not limited to the authorities alone. Indore’s citizens too have taken to the cause with fervour.

This is most evident at celebratory occasions like the ‘great Indian wedding’! Giving a cool new fillip to the saat pheras or seven pledges — each corresponding to a round of the sacred fire to solemnise the ceremony — is Indore’s version of the eighth pledge. With it, the newlywed couple is administered the oath of cleanliness.

And here’s another uber cool initiative — dustbins are even distributed during such wedding ceremonies to guests as return gifts.

Speaking of dustbins, for the last two years, the IMC is believed to have distributed thousands of bottle-shaped dustbins, which neatly fit into the car door bottle-holders, to vehicle owners to encourage them not to litter on the roads. So chuffed was I to see them that I even picked up a couple to take back home for friends and family, each for a mere ₹35.

And as for one of India’s biggest problems, open defecation, the city has employed something known locally as ‘dabba gangs’ that patrol the city, discouraging open defecation and urging people to use the newly constructed public toilets that one can see everywhere in Indore.

Will it be a case of fourth time’s a lucky charm for the nation’s cleanest city in 2020, or will it be ‘cleaned out’ of the competition? I’d wager a bet on the former.

The Mumbai-based writer and restaurant reviewer is passionate about food, travel and luxury, not necessarily in that order.

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Printable version | May 21, 2020 1:21:10 PM |

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