My little son taught me a lesson which I will remember all my life. We were coming back home after some shopping and it was a hot and humid day. As we were quite exhausted, I bought chips and juices for our drive back. After sipping the juice thirstily and finishing my chips, I was about to throw away the empty packets on the road when my son’s voice startled me, “Mama, roads are not dustbins!”
Surprised I turned around to see him neatly folding his wrappers and placing them in the empty shopper. With a somewhat amused smile, I asked him, “Who told you so, son?” Without a blink of an eye he said confidently, “Our teacher told us in the class yesterday that we should not throw anything on the roads. It is the duty of every citizen to keep our city clean.”
I felt ashamed of myself! All my life I had committed this crime without even considering it unethical. Every unwanted thing during a drive which should have been saved for the dustbin, was thoughtlessly tossed out of the car’s window. And then I had the cheek to complain about the dirty conditions of our roads, curse the sweepers for not doing their job properly and blame the concerned high ups for not taking strict steps to ensure that the city was kept spotlessly clean!
Karachi is considered a city of colours, from its multi-ethnic population, the variety in the dresses of its people, the food they eat, or the highly decorated public buses they travel in, but some of the colours are added by the garbage strewn along the roads, alleys, parks and other public places. It isn’t an uncommon sight to see heaps of cloth strips outside a tailor’s shop, leftover food dumped besides roadside eateries, vendors of fruits and vegetables throwing away their rotten produce, wrappings and empty boxes outside their shops.
All of us take great pains to keep our homes clean, spending a good part of our time daily to keep them spic and span. But how many of us realise that keeping our streets, alleys and public places clean is also our responsibility? Roadsides are littered with fruit peels, empty cans of juices, pet bottles of cold drinks and mineral water, discarded packs of cigarettes, match boxes, wrappers of chips, biscuits, ice-cream, pan and sweet supari, etc.
Polythene bags blow about lazily in the breeze or worse still, get stuck in the bushes, trees and barbed wires, depicting an ugly sight. They make storm water drains choke and overflow whenever there is rain. Still we do not even have a second thought before throwing out our garbage on the roads. These ugly dumps not only emit an ugly odour, they also become a favourable breeding place for flies and mosquitoes, giving rise to many infectious diseases.
As a nation we lack civic sense. We seldom take responsibility for any collective or productive act which could provide for better living conditions. We are content to play the blame game, sit back and criticise the government for all our woes. We hold the municipal authorities solely responsible for keeping our roads and public places clean, without realising that each and everyone has to play his role.
The city government has taken many steps to beautify Karachi and the result can be seen in nearly every part of the city. But the greenery, the impressive flyovers and underpasses can only please the eye if they are litter and graffiti-free.
It is high time we understood and learnt to play a positive role in keeping our cities clean. On self-help basis, we can take the initiative by forming neighbourhood committees that see to the sanitary conditions of their locality and make sure that no one throws his garbage outside his house.
We must learn to use dustbins provided in public places for unwanted things and teach others to do so too, because clean roads make clean cities and clean cities provide citizens with a healthy and pollution free environment. Like in the developed countries, the government can declare littering a crime and carry out on-the-spot checking; fines can be imposed on those who violate the law. We can follow the example of Singapore, one of the cleanest cities in the world, where heavy fines are imposed on throwing anything on the roads.
The lessons learnt during childhood last for a long time and children are good learners and teachers too. So parents and teachers can play an important role in inculcating in them a sense of responsibility at a very early stage. Their civic sense can go a long way towards changing the attitude of society as a whole. I hope many children (like my son) will teach their careless parents (like me) a lifelong lesson. Thank you, my dear son!