A Casual Attitude Seems To Be Our Collective National Behaviour

A Casual Attitude Seems To Be Our Collective National Behaviour

When you’re not clear about your priorities, your overall approach is never serious

Sumit PaulUpdated: Wednesday, July 10, 2024, 09:05 PM IST
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Representative Image | Pixabay

It has been a little over two weeks of unpleasant finds for customers shopping online and offline in the country. A Mumbai doctor found a severed human finger in ice cream ordered by his sister via a grocery delivery app; a dead frog in a packet of chips in Jamnagar; a dead cockroach found in a meal served on the Vande Bharat Express plying between Bhopal and Agra. As if this wasn’t enough, even a live snake turned up wrapped around an Amazon package in Bengaluru; and a passenger on a Bengaluru-San Francisco Air India flight found a piece of metal blade in his meal. And this is the Tata Group-run Air India, once considered the “Maharaja” of hospitality. An Urdu newspaper reported a month ago that a bunch of engineering students thrashed a restaurant owner and dragged him to the police station in Mughalsarai, UP, when they found dead cockroaches in their dish.

Stumbling upon a cockroach or an insect in your morsel is not a new phenomenon in India. Cockroaches and flies being ubiquitous, you find them everywhere, even in your bowl of hot soup! This happens in our great country at the drop of a hat. Even the so-called starred hotels and eateries don’t maintain the parameters of hygiene and cleanliness. Just have a peek into the kitchen of any classy restaurant. Rest assured, you’ll stop patronising restaurants and hotels. A renowned Urdu poet wrote that he was recently in Allahabad (sorry, Prayagraj) to attend a “Mushaira” (gathering of poets). It was a great evening. Ghazals and couplets enthralled the capacity crowd. There was a grand dinner following the gathering and the food was prepared by one of the best caterers of Prayagraj. The food was indeed sumptuous. Suddenly, he tasted something different. He said, “That taste can never be described in words.” He had found – not just a cockroach, but a half-eaten one! It’s enough to make anyone throw up!

This is the general state of hygiene in India – or should I say in the whole subcontinent, as the writer was recently in Bangladesh where he faced the same hygiene-related issues. After all, ethos and ethics are the same! People of the subcontinent have the same mentality and a casual attitude. Hotels and restaurants just reflect this sorry state. The famous British travel writer Trevor Fishlock once sarcastically wrote, “Indian restaurants must add a cockroach dish to their menu cards.” Why is hygiene given the least importance in India?

M K Gandhi said, “Cleanliness is next to godliness.” Alas, the countrymen of Gandhiji are so casual about hygiene and cleanliness aspects. We seem to have got inured to eating anything and we’ve adapted ourselves so well to unhygienic conditions and foods that even if we inadvertently eat a lizard, nothing can happen! Whereas a Westerner will immediately embark on the route to heaven.

This “chalta hai” attitude and poor sanitary sense have completely paralysed our collective selves, so much so that even if we find a cockroach or anything of its ilk in our food, we calmly call the waiter and say, “Doosra deejiye.” One can learn stoicism from the Indians! At most we will take a photo and post it on social media for a viral 15 minutes of Warholian fame.

What makes us so casual as well as frivolous?

Veteran journalist S Nihal Singh dealt with our collective casual attitude in his autobiography Ink In My Veins: A Life In Journalism. He analysed and got to the bottom of this collective lackadaisical approach and attitude of the Indians. He found that we seriously lacked a sense of priority and preference. This is very true. Even after so many years, our sense of priority is still vague. The country has so many huge issues. Unprecedented heat which took a heavy toll; drought because of inadequate rains; flooding because of choked drains when it does rain; unemployment has hit the nadir... but we still going gaga over India’s recent World Cup triumph in carnival cricket. When you’re not clear about your priorities, your overall approach is never serious. So, the “anything- goes” mentality sets in.

Singh further said that flexible laws and their soft implementation in India allowed the culprits and perpetrators to manipulate the rules and regulations. This deplorable scenario is still unchanged. Companies, hotels and restaurants that are responsible for serving substandard goods and edibles are seldom penalised stringently. There’s no permanent solution. Our lack of willingness to extirpate a nagging issue leads to the perpetuation of such incidents and this will go on because we’ve no permanent solution in sight.

The widespread corruption in India is yet another factor. When places like Singapore have so many street food stalls at every corner, with strict regulation and grading of the stalls, why can’t that be implemented here? The answer is: Corruption. It’s ingrained in our psyche. You cannot wiggle your way out of a cockroach incident in Singapore with an under-the-table payment, whereas in India, so long as it doesn’t hit the headlines, the health officials “benefit” and the hotelier gets away scot-free.

We need to change our system, mindset and perceptions. We should also be firm in dealing with errant brands and establishments, no matter how big and famous they may be. Finally, we must be able to distinguish between the serious and not-so-serious.

Sumit Paul is a regular contributor to the world’s premier publications and portals in several languages

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