In the past six years, I have lived away from home in one of the Govt run med-schools in Chennai and travelled a bit in the country and around the world. I have always believed that one of the best ways to understand the pulse of a city is to travel in its local transport. The young and vibrant crowd of Boston inside the T – gazing into books or ipads, the aunty ji’s chopping vegetables inside a Mumbai local, the intoxicating fragrance of jasmine inside a Chennai bus all have stories to tell. In this process the local transport experience has turned a custom template for me, to compare the experience of different cities.
Last time I was in Bhubaneswar,”share” auto-rickshaws were all I knew in the name of local transport. There was a theoretical existence of town buses, but I never took one. Today, for some reason I felt I should take a green bus (DTS) from Master Canteen all the way to KIMS and see a new perspective of Bhubaneswar.
I live by the Railway Station. It’s not tough for me to recognize an approaching train from the subtle vibration of the jug on the dining table, I must have demonstrated Doppler’s Effect to the poor maid countless times and I have also known all dark alleys and open gates that led from this side of the railway station to the other, saving us really long bike rides and platform tickets. When I was a child it would often take me to recite aloud a couple of holy verses to safely negotiate one of these dark alleys. This cloudy morning I was again in one of these lanes – damp and slippery.
And there are three gentlemen, each different from the other in age and attire and as obvious, in occupation and conscience. All of them facing the same damp wall which notoriously boasted of its extra ordinary ability to seep in all the urine in the world. I hurried my way out of the alley and was climbing a mound that took me to the railway line. To my utter embarrassment, there were about six to eight men (and some women) all facing me, lay ward from the train and peeing on the track. I tried to fix my eyes to my feet and offer them as much comfort and privacy, I could offer at that point of time.
At times, you catch a bad cold out of nowhere, you have a stuffed nose and you can’t do much about it (in the medical sense and otherwise). But today is where your helplessness about things, could turn bliss.
As a medical student, you come in close contact with urine, many times. In the first year in the biochemistry lab when you need to boil the urine in a test tube to see if a coagulum pops out to tell that the sample has protein. Then in the second year pathologists make you see a drop of urine under the microscope. But the most profound message is during community medicine classes* where in you are taught lessons on sanitation and hygiene. The rituals, however vigorous, do not season you to consider urine auspicious.
(*Some would like to differ here. There is actually another moment of extreme emotion on the day you complete your med-school. This is a party with your private guests, the best of your friends and juniors. You have an overwhelming sense of achievement after standing tall to the largest volumes of text over past six years, and being done with a huge community of grey haired people who you never got along. Every drop of ethanol running in your blood amplifies this sense of achievement. You stand on the tallest of your hostel towers, look to the sky, look down, look back to the sky and pee!)
In India, there is a huge shortage of toilets. To quote a statistics of 2009, We needed to build 112 000 toilets every day if we had to meet our sanitation goal by 2012. In remote villages around Berhampur, people like Joe Madiath were at it already. There have been wonderful initiatives for sanitation (See www.gramvikas.org)
The legal and moral implications of peeing in public is a debate for another day. People look in bushes to answer the nature’s call even in Germany and France. But peeing in a dark alley on a drunk weekend and educating your children that it’s ok to pee in the public are two different things.
Before the Common Wealth Games, Delhi Municipal Corporation started a campaign to discourage peeing in public. Campaigns were launched in the city on bill boards, on radio and television. The names Mr. Thu-Thu Kumar (the spitter), Mr. Kuda Kumar (the litterbug) and Mr. Su-Su Kumar (the person urinating in public) were used to deter these common practices and a fine of 10$ or more was fixed.
I love to be liberal in ideologies but until a few things become so prevalent that they are seen systemic to a culture. I could be over reacting to the situation today. All could have been circumstantial. May be I came across all poor people and all dirty places.
The bus moved on to show me a whole new Bhubaneswar of heaped sand and gravel, largely under construction. I tried ignoring the people peeing behind these heaps. I am sure it was wise for me to avoid the count. It took me 40 minutes to reach the KIMS hospital. I got down the bus. Standing in front of the hospital, I was a little lost.
A bike brakes in front of me. A beautiful girl in a frock got down to stand by the bike. With one of her fingers she was twirling a curl of her hair. The young man riding the bike kicks the side stand, places his helmet on the tank, takes a couple of steps ahead and turns back to face away from the hospital.
The title is inspired by one of my favorite dialogues from the movie Rang De Basanti- “Ek paon past me, Ek paon future me.. Isi liye to hum aaj pe moot rahe hain”
Contributed by : Saurav Das
He recently graduated from med-school. A wanna-be Scientist, he is also the co-founder, Director at Newdigm Healthcare Technologies (www.newdigm.com), a start-up works on technology solutions for health care in resource limited settings.