Dirty habits

Amal Chatterjee
9 min readNov 3, 2017


Source : Google photo

Synopsis : Many people have dirty habits they form since childhood if they grow up in an environment where they learn such habits from others so it is hard for them to give it up.The blog notes various dirty habits related to the culture of people and why in some countries they practice good habits and why good habits are so important.

If you see the garbage left behind in any cemetery here in the Philippines after celebrating the All Souls Day when people congregate in the graveyards to clean the tombs of their relatives and remember the dead, you will be surprised at the sheer quantity of it. People go to cemetery to eat and drink with abandon so paying respect to the dead seems almost secondary.

The TV commentators bemoan this bad habit of people who desecrate the parks and other places like the cemeteries with tons of garbage although there are garbage bins provided by the municipal authorities that only a few use. People throw garbage out of the windows of buses if those windows can be opened. They used to throw garbage on the roof of trains so I used to see the slanting roof of train coaches and naively asked why it was so. The answer shocked me.

I was told that the squatters living very close to the railway lines threw their household garbage including offal in plastic bags onto the slow moving trains that passed just below their shanties so that the train would carry it away. The city municipality did not collect their garbage so they used this method. But the slanting roof of the coaches only carried it a short distance before it fell off littering both sides of the track that no one bothers to clean up.

You will see this phenomenon in poor countries where millions of very poor people live as squatters near the railway lines or near the river banks so they treat the river as their sewer where anything undesirable is thrown including bodies of criminals once in a while.

I was so impressed when I came to Manila for the first time and enjoyed a clean well lit park where music played and beautifully manicured lawns and flower beds along with water fountains made the park so lively. That was some 45 years ago. Now the same park is littered with garbage every time a public religious or political meeting takes place.

I see this bad habit in India where people trample the grass and flower beds of a beautiful park called Vrindavan Gardens in south India. This park at night is beautifully illuminated and is a tourist attraction where the colored water fountains play with music and is really a great park to visit but the locals throw garbage everywhere with abandon in spite of numerous garbage bins. The gardeners cringe at the destruction of their flower beds and the janitors curse everyone throwing garbage but the practice continues.

The park authorities had tried to ban the vendors inside the park who are the source of the garbage people throw away but they protest because it is a matter of their livelihood.

So what makes people so insensitive to the surroundings? What makes them dirty a beautiful park with such carelessness? There was a cartoon by Sempe in France that showed a fellow threw a banana peel on the road on which a fellow slipped and fell making the peel thrower laugh. He then went to a movie house and cried at a scene because it was so sad. The cartoon showed the apathetic nature of people in a simple but educative cartoon.

I was once visiting a hospital in Lucknow where I was shocked to see a whole wall inside the hospital covered with spit from top to bottom. When I asked a nurse why the hospital tolerated such dirty things inside the hospital, she answered that the people chew Pan and spit on the wall even from the balcony of the second floor. It is a dirty habit there. Not satisfied with her answer, I approached the hospital director and asked him the same question. He looked surprised and admitted that he seldom went to the offending part of the big hospital and thanked me for bringing it to his attention. He also promised to have the offending wall cleaned up pronto and place some guards there to catch the spitters.

I think the problem lies in the accepted culture of a country where spitting everywhere and throwing garbage on the road or in parks is tolerated because it is the part of their culture not to mention people defecating openly in public near the railway lines that anyone can see from the trains. I will get back to that nasty topic a bit later in the blog.

Now you go to a city like Singapore where throwing a wrapper or spitting a chewing gum anywhere is punished by heavy fines so slowly people changed their bad behavior out of fear of being punished with fines. The result is that the city is very clean and the new generation is very conscious and proud of their clean city.

If you go to Paris and sit in any park, you will notice that people bring their dogs on leash and let them poop somewhere but they pick up the poop in their gloved hands immediately and throw it into a proper bin placed at intervals. This good habit keeps their parks clean and enjoyable. People in Europe are very conscious of their public places and obey the rules so you will not see garbage anywhere but in the bins.

The same thing is true in Japan where believe it or not, women come out early in the morning with buckets of soapy water and long handle brushes and clean their sidewalks every morning. Kyoto is such a beautiful city because it is so clean and people work hard to keep it that way. Cleanliness is a part of Japanese culture nationwide where you are given new clean slippers to enter their homes while you leave your dirty shoes outside.

The Japanese students and their teachers all help clean their class rooms at the end of the school day so that too is a part of their culture. It is a delightful country where people have such good habits everywhere. Their villages are spotlessly clean. You will never see anyone throwing anything in the train or buses. If they can’t find a bin nearby, they keep the wrappers etc. in their pockets until they find a bin to throw them into. I was impressed.

That brings me to the topic of dirty habits once again and why some people have them while others don’t. First of all it has to do with poverty but poverty alone is not the answer. People in India are not poor as most people outside India think but they chew pan ( it is a pungent leaf like kat in Kenya or coco in South America) because it is a social habit like smoking. The cigarette butts are thrown away carelessly anywhere even in a very dry forest that can cause a wildfire later.

There is a river in Manila called the Pasig River but it is more like a wide open sewer. The mountains of garbage floats on it that the current carries to the ocean but the waves push it back up the river. Why there is so much garbage in the river? It is because more than two million squatters live on both side of the river in their shanties and have no toilet so they defecate into the river where they also throw all their household waste. The city municipal office tries to clean up the waterways and the canals that choke with garbage but it is an uphill battle. To make the river clean, they have to stop the source of the garbage so they have to relocate two million squatters which is easier said than done.

Many have tried and failed to relocate these people because they find odd jobs in the city that allows them to live albeit in very poor conditions so they don’t like to move. The relocation sites may be quite far in other provinces where they have no way of earning a living. So these are the social issues that the government finds very hard to deal with in any practical way.

It is the same story in a Mumbai slum called Dharawi that is spread over hundreds of acres making it the biggest slum in Asia. You can see it from the air just before your plane lands because the slum starts right at the end of the runway making it a very vulnerable place to live in constant danger of a plane crashing there someday.

The government of the state plans to move the squatters to a new relocation site and develop Dharawi as a model town with parks and nice houses but there too it is an uphill battle because the slum dwellers do not want to move. The movie The slum dog millionaire sums it all up very nicely.

Just remember that a century or two ago London was a very dirty city where garbage and sewage flowing openly was normal and where plague broke out from time to time due to millions of rats but it took the collective effort of the British people to clean up their cities and improve sanitation.

As a country develops and industries grow, people get richer and then move to suburbs in their new homes leaving the cities to mostly offices and business people so this is also happening in Asia where a middle class is growing and getting better education and jobs so now they can afford to live in their modest but new homes and even buy scooters or cars. With education and good jobs people start to live a clean life because no one really likes to be a squatter and live the way they do. They all want to live like the middle class people in their own nice homes and live in a clean community where their children can play in parks.

The western idea of building huge tenement housing for the poor where they live in practically derelict buildings without elevators and broken window panes and garbage in the stairs is not the solution either. These tenement houses become the birthplace of social discontent and deviants who see themselves as failures and take to a life of crime, drug dealings and other such things. These huge monolithic and ugly brown buildings look scary and are a blot on the landscape anywhere whether in New York or Paris.

Poor countries cannot afford to house their poor in such buildings derelict or not so the squatters are allowed to live the way they are. Their garbage is not collected and they do not have running water or toilet in their shanties so what can they do? They make a spider web of electricity connections all illegal that sometimes overheats and burns their shanties down but what are their choices?

So I return to the topic of dirty habits that are not necessarily tied to poverty although it is shown above that the poor people share most of the blame.

India is another country where dirty habits are not confined to the poor. The Hindu culture is fastidious when it comes to the preparation of food for example where the kitchen is the cleanest place even in a poor household. But the toilets were always old fashioned that required a janitor to come every day. Pity if he did not come one day. The culture of treating some people as untouchables due to their trade is deeply rooted so it is still unthinkable for the village people to build their own toilet in their homes or nearby. It is due to aversion and not because they can’t afford so where do people go when the nature calls?

Now the Indian government is funding the construction of millions of clean toilets in every village so that is a step in the right direction. Hopefully the practice of open defecation in the countryside will be a thing of the past. The World Bank has also funded the underground sewer lines and flush toilets in cities.

I think the social consciousness of clean living can be developed through education and through the uplifting the poor people to the middle class but it is a slow process so takes time. But even the poor people in Japan are so clean. That comes from the pride in their culture and national heritage that is thousands of years old. They teach their children good values of clean minimalist living who pass on their learning to the next generation.

That is how people can do away with their dirty habits and learn clean habits so the clue is in the pride one must take in their nationality and say that we all can be better than this.



Amal Chatterjee

I am the village bard who loves to share his stories.