YOU can change your city

We drink tea from saucers, cutlery with fingers and bargain exhaustively with shopkeepers. We are like that only. But we also throw garbage on the road, spit on the sidewalk and leave paan stains on public walls. We are like that only?

With a name aimed at making people aware of these unsavoury habits, The Ugly Indian — a community project to clean up the streets of the city — began as an attempt to understand why we have such low civic standards and tolerate incredible amounts of filth on the streets.

Comprising of a group of Bangaloreans deeply concerned about the city’s environmental health and its public hygiene (they did not want to be named in this article as they feel this was a community effort), the project took off a year ago. Initially, the group spenttime observing and understanding the systems and building trust with the various stakeholders.

The project gained momentum only in the past four-five months once several small experiments had been conducted to figure outwhat worked and what didn’t.

The project kick-started its drive for a cleaner city on Church Street. Probably the city’s most visited “fun-street”, Church Street houses the offices of India Tourism, three media companies, Wipro, several leading restaurant brands and the Pollution Control Board.

The poor management of a street so vital to upholding the image of Brand Bangalore perplexed the organisers of the project.

But if you walk down Church Street today, you will notice how the garbage dumps that occupied a large space of the pavements in several prominent locations have disappeared, the paan-stained walls repainted, potholes closed and even cigarette butts lining cracks in the pavements have been cleared.

Church-street dwellers, many of whom were part of the endeavour, are grateful.

“There were a few pressing issues of cleanliness and public hygiene around Church Street. In many spots, garbage had accumulated in huge quantities, and these people took the initiative to clean it up,” says Anil Chodha, owner of Queen’s Restaurant on Church Street. He finds this a great gesture.

“If citizens at various locations around the city make a similar effort, something good is bound to come out of it.” He also feels that when such an attempt is being made, it is essential to bring it to people’s notice, for they will obviously come forward to help.

Creating awareness for the need of community involvement fueled by individual effort in such issues has been the main focus of the project. They believe that people are extremely keen about improving the condition of their surroundings and just need a spark or catalyst to get them going. The Ugly Indian is about giving people this spark.

Through the project they want to convey that it is possible for any individual, with no authority, money, volunteers or influence, to create a sustainable change in his or her surroundings.

Neelam Teibam, a make-up artist and stylist who frequents Church Street, remarks that the changes are quite evident. “I normally walk up and down Church Street, especially on weekends, and I’ve noticed that the pavements and the road look a lot cleaner. The walls have been whitewashed. Potted plants have been placed beside them, and it certainly makes the street a brighter, greener place,” she says.

Teibam is glad to learn that The Ugly Indian returns regularly to keep in check fresh waste accumulation. “Simply starting such an effort is not sufficient, maintaining cleanliness is equally important. I think they are handling the issue in the right way.”

Making people alert to the results of the project will generate a lot of positive interest, she feels. “Given a chance, I would love to join in with what they’re doing, too.”

So next time you complain about how terrible the state of the city roads are, don’t just brush the matter aside with a “somebody else will take care of it.” Why not play the role of this elusive “somebody else” for a change?

To know more about the project and leave feedback, visit their website http://www.theuglyindian.com. You can also find them on Facebook (search for The Ugly Indian).

Published in DNA, November 18th 2010