Thursday, December 17, 2015

Something is rotten in the state of Denmark. Er, Tamil Nadu

It has been a few days since the catastrophic rains and floods.  I have been walking around, yes, but not any long radius from home.  I am intentionally a lot more restricted in my movements this time--in some parts, I see and smell sewage-smelling stagnant water, which is not what I want to encounter.

Life, otherwise, seems to be no different from what it was during the previous trips to the old country.  The streets that had been washed clean by the flood waters are now back with rotting garbage piling up.  The floods apparently did nothing to remind the vast majority about the delicate ecosystem in which more than eight million live.  As if they woke up from a bad dream, people are back to their bad old habits.
  • The young and the old alike casually toss away the trash, especially after eating fast foods at cafes and mobile stands.
  • The dogs have a field day digging through the scrap and, in the process, stuff gets dispersed all over the streets.
  • The rag pickers toss things out of the bins in their search for anything salvageable and recyclable, which is how they make their living.
The net result: there seems to be a permanent putrefied stink in the air, in addition to the sewage smell at some places--like at the gas distribution agency to which I walked with my father.  It has been quite a few days since my parents had booked for their replacement cooking gas cylinder. The phone calls did not go through.  So, finally we walked over.  At one place, we carefully stepped past the horribly stinking black pool of water all over the road.

The gas agency office had the smell of a structure that had been inundated--the smell was so strong that I rushed out preferring the smell of sewage.  My father joked that these are the instances that he thanks his sinus problems, because of which he is unaware of stinks.

From a public policy perspective, the rotting garbage is a public health menace.  One can easily imagine that the public health implications are not that far away from the London of the old, where a single water pump turned out to be the source of a deadly cholera. 

I am once again ticked off thinking about American politicians, especially the rabidly nativist Republicans, who frequently talk about the US having to compete against India.  I wonder if any of them see and experience this kind of a ground-level reality.  Comfortably ensconced in their own bubbles, America's rich and the middle-class alike hysterically yell about the competition from India, when the reality in India stinks, chokes, and more.

As for the dogs, I wish the locals would elect dogcatchers instead of politicians who are only out to swindle.


Ramesh said...

Yup; a lot is rotten in the state of Tamil Nadu, and all the other states as well.

Civic infrastructure has badly crumbled in the last decade or so and those of us who live here are acutely infected with the boiling frog syndrome. Agglomeration of people in India - be it cities or small towns - are becoming awful places.

Be careful my friend. You do not have the same immunity that we have developed. Be very careful.

Anne in Salem said...

We hear in the news that hundreds died in the flooding, though it was likely more and US media didn't cover it. (Debates to parse, Paul Ryan's facial hair to cover, Star Wars to obsess over, etc.) I wonder how many suffer and die from the aftermath - the raw sewage, garbage, increased potential for disease transmission, contamination of the food supply, etc. We don't hear so much about that. Perhaps there is some sort of immunity, as Ramesh says. Take care.

mahesh said...

Dear Sriram Sir,

Are you in Madras now?

Would be honoured to meet you sir.


Sriram Khé said...

"Civic infrastructure has badly crumbled" is one heck of an understatement. I don't mean the physical infrastructure like roads and bridges and hospitals, which are themselves way, way under capacity and even the existing ones are in a terrible shape. But, even worse is the intangible part--from people interactions in the civic space to education to cultural aspects. I cannot understand how India could have become this rotten! The part of the heart where the old country has a special place bleeds like crazy when I see and experience all these.

Ramesh/Anne, yes, I am being extra careful this time. But, there has to be a better way than this.

Mahesh, yes, I am in town. The "sir" and the "honoured" make me sooooooooo old ... until the day that Ramesh treats me with respect and calls me "sir" nobody should ;) My email address is

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