Chennai’s seven deadly sins

The Chennai metblogs reader + author meet saw animated discussion that went far beyond fixing the inflation rate for the country, changing the presidential dress code (no, we didn’t change hair styles), establishing puppet governments in Fiji and Singapore and George Bush. It went far enough to go around the world and come right back to our raison d’etre: Chennai!

One of the things we discussed was a series on Chennai’s very own seven deadly sins. The original seven deadly sins as listed in ‘Dr Faustus’ by Christopher Marlowe are lust, sloth, gluttony, pride, envy, anger and greed. While there’s a lot that’s really good about Chennai, we felt that we must also focus on what makes Chennai a not-so-nice place as well. So that, we the citizens that make up this city, become consciously cognizant of them, and do something about it.

So here goes: Chennai’s first deadly sin

It has to be the sheer apathy to clean surroundings. Worse, even the learned, aware and fastidious middle-class (in case it appears we are knocking the poor) don’t seem to have any civic sense where garbage is concerned. Many ensure their compound is clean, but chuck their garbage over the wall so that the roadsides are littered with it. Spread generously around by the breeze, stray dogs and passing vehicles there after. What’s even worse (yes, there’s more) is that, when there are garbage bins every fifty yards or so along a road, the garbage is strewn all around the bin, but with very little in it!

This is a phenomenon you will find all across Chennai, but one I encountered in T Nagar. I once saw a person dumping garbage outside the bin and asked why do that when a bin has been provided. His (lofty) reply was that he considered the garbage bin as ‘dirty’, and so could not go and tip garbage into it. I must say this logic completely threw me. Especially as the area around the bin which he had to approach was far, far dirtier than the bin! And sullied the street on which he (and I) lived. Things are now a little better, especially in the areas cleaned by Onyx, but that’s probably because they clean up the mess around the bins.

So much for the residential areas. Those who visit busy market streets are familiar with the rotting garbage and waste that lies along the street. The whole sale markets are even worse. Its not that facilities for dumping garbage have not been provided-even when they are, the same principle seems to apply: dump everything outside of it or along the road. The commercial and business areas are no better. All manner of rubbish: waste cloth, loose cotton, bags, paper, rags, iron pieces and tons of plastic bags lie along the roads. Either because there is no place to dump them, or because even when there is, no one actually does.

Add to this the habit of many of our citizens happily relieving themselves of stress on their bladders at convenient corners, or even along residential roads without heavy traffic and it gets worse. Leave alone depositing other forms of bodily waste. If any one has visited a public toilet, the reason why this is done, even in their vicinity, is plainly evident. For the same principle seems to apply. Everyone has liberally performed everywhere but in the WC!

Spitting is the other bane of Chennai that contributes to the filth. Spitting liberally, and everywhere-train platforms, roads, side walks…. every where. In fact, the spitting habit is fuelled by the ‘dirt’ that one happens to see. (Which you can’t avoid in the first place because every one is contributing to making the place dirty!) So the moment one espies some unmentionables by the side of the road, or garbage, or whatever, one has to spit in that direction to establish that one has seen something ‘unclean’.

As a city with one of the higher levels of literacy, we should ensure a civic campaign to appeal to everyone to give up these habits and ensure cleaner, more hygienic surroundings in our city. Most of all, we need to cultivate a sense of shared responsibility in keeping our city clean and pleasant for all of us. Starting with civic sense and courtesy, we can build on it to make Chennai the kind of city we can all be proud of. But this can only be achieved if all of us pitch in to combat this deadliest of all sins.

27 Comments so far

  1. JoeV (unregistered) on December 11th, 2006 @ 10:27 pm

    Apparently this sin is not limited to Chennai alone. But the entire country.
    We should also accept the fact that keeping the surroundings clean(except our home, off course) is simply not part of our culture even though we are forced to do it whenever we live among cultures abroad.

  2. sj (unregistered) on December 12th, 2006 @ 4:01 am

    I agree with both of you there should be on the spot fines issued by the police for people who are caught litering, spitting, crossing roads at places where there is no predestrian crossings or doing anything that creates an unclean environment.

    In Singapore the issuing of fines has been proven to work I think something like this should be implemented here then only will the general public learn to keep there own house and surrounding environment clean and hygenic for everyone.

  3. Nilu (unregistered) on December 12th, 2006 @ 8:38 am

    Spitting in the road is part of our culture. If you want Singapore, you go to Singapore. Why do you want to change our culture?

  4. Ravi (unregistered) on December 12th, 2006 @ 11:06 am

    Well written, as usual. Perhaps you should consider publishing it in the ‘letters to the editor’ section particularly in the vernacular papers!
    Different issue if it changes people for the better, though!

  5. inlivenout (unregistered) on December 12th, 2006 @ 12:36 pm

    Nice write up,David. Excluding the last paragraph.

    RH, is it like…. your full time job?

  6. Yuva (unregistered) on December 12th, 2006 @ 2:34 pm

    OK.. fact is – we cannot wait until everyone learn ‘civic habits’.. so solution (assuming current habits and hoping for slow change) could be : garbage bin for smaller group..i.e, instead of having one per street we should have four/five(may be smaller sized) bins. smaller group will think to make/keep it clean(just in & around them). guess in all counts (overflow rate, clean surroundings, etc..) this idea might help. ofcourse, in short-term this will increase cost but in long run this will change public habit.. then we can consolidate bins.

    I strongly believe, if people see it dirty then they attend keep it that way and even add dirt to it but if people see it clean mostly they dont want to be first one to make it dirty.

    appreciate your thoughts – hope Chennai Metropolitan is listening to this blog (instead of tracking unwanted people in orkut))


  7. prabhu (unregistered) on December 12th, 2006 @ 2:34 pm

    Everyone of us might have done one or all the mistakes mentioned by David or at least i have. But once we start talking about it, our common sense will remind us of this discussion when we try to do the same mistake and we will avoid doing it eventually.
    David i feel this list is small. The more issues we talk about, more chances of our Chennai getting better.

  8. T.Rajapandian (unregistered) on December 12th, 2006 @ 3:12 pm

    Very relevant & thought provoking article.Generally Indians are a selfish lot thinking only about themselves and their dear ones.Larger issues concerning society are no relevance to us. Another pet peeve regarding Chennai is the utter disregard for traffic rules and a propensity to drive on the wrong side of the road.

  9. suppamani (unregistered) on December 12th, 2006 @ 7:28 pm

    Your comment is very interesting and thought provoking. For a moment there is a seen runs through in my screne – ” NILU” is waiting for green signal at a junction in his two wheeler ; a bus has come and stopped his side ; within a second he has got ” ABHISHEKAM” of some red water ; it is nothing else – only of the chewing omitted by passenger casually; what he can do; he is not having any wash basin in the vehicle; moreover he behave strictly by his culture; I hope NILU might have enjoyed it.

  10. Nilu (unregistered) on December 12th, 2006 @ 10:19 pm


    Enjoying abishekam is Tamil culture.

  11. Siva (unregistered) on December 12th, 2006 @ 11:27 pm


    This sin that you have listed is part of every city in India, but what makes Chennai more worse for people who come to Chennai as well as live in Chennai is the Autorickshaws. I always was able to defend Chennai when someone talks bad about it, but when they talk about Autos in Chennai.. am speechless. Autorickshaws and its drivers are the deadliest sin for Chennai, in my opinion.

  12. Mattia (unregistered) on December 12th, 2006 @ 11:35 pm

    A very good blog.
    I have been living for almost two years here in Chennai but hanging around mostly with foreigners i could see things just from an “outsider” perspective. Your blog gives me the chance to see how local people perceive the city they live in.

  13. sj (unregistered) on December 13th, 2006 @ 4:07 am

    Nilu I am not trying to change the culture, but if people don’t change Chennai and the rest of India will always remain dirty. If you want to spit maybe you should do it in a bin instead of on the road or footpath, would you spit inside you own house?

  14. AB (unregistered) on December 13th, 2006 @ 6:32 am

    Edha edhaellam culture la sekaradhunnu oru vevastha illa?

  15. michael (unregistered) on December 13th, 2006 @ 10:26 am

    Yes, as someone pointed out it is autorickshaw all the way. i think it is sin number 1 for chennai….

  16. Nilu (unregistered) on December 13th, 2006 @ 12:58 pm

    Having a dustbin inside the house to spit in, is alien to our culture. If you want to have one, please get out of my state. You are spoiling our culture.

  17. irfan (unregistered) on December 13th, 2006 @ 1:49 pm

    These things are not really culture… we make our own culture. I am sure it was not like this long long long before some people started spitting on the roads and throwing garbage wherever they please.
    Human beings tend to do things out of habit, if we can tell a child not to bite nails and reinforce the idea of it being bad and unhealthy and even going to the extent of physical control. I am sure we can do the same with people throwing garbage outside and spitting everywhere.

  18. Thad E. Ginathom (unregistered) on December 13th, 2006 @ 4:49 pm

    Spitting is not culture, it is spreading disease.

    Anyone who wants disease: fine, spit and encourage others to do so.

    Patently the most absurd and ridiculous argument I ever saw!

    But then, I’m a foreigner: what do I know?

    Well… I know that bad, antisocial, habits like this (considered their culture by a lot of youngsters) are on the increase in cities like London. As are diseases we once thought a thing of the past like TB.

    But, heck… anyone who thinks dying of TB is part of their culture is welcome…

  19. bejharboy (unregistered) on December 13th, 2006 @ 6:29 pm

    Nilu is anti-culture…he pukes!

  20. AB (unregistered) on December 13th, 2006 @ 10:23 pm

    Nilu sucks big time.

  21. sj (unregistered) on December 14th, 2006 @ 4:39 am

    I agree with you Thad, Bejarboy and AB his comments are silly, well whoever edits this page you were complaining about personal abuse is not accepted what is this behaviour of Nilu???? Isn’t it people like this that you didn’t want on your blog???????

  22. Nilu (unregistered) on December 14th, 2006 @ 9:38 am

    Please define personal abuse.

    And while you are at it, don’t you know that bad grammar is against Tamil culture? Please get out of my state if you can’t spell or write coherent sentences. Either in English or in Tamil.

  23. rd (unregistered) on December 14th, 2006 @ 6:35 pm

    I couldn’t agree more with you. These are my 2 cents..
    The first thing that strikes about chennai is the shocking disregard for trafic rules and apathy for fellow citizens.But I must say that there are lot of traffic signals in annanagar that serve no purpose at all and the duration of the green signal does not consider the volume of traffic, for instance, a 2 km stretch of traffic will be put to wait for 5 minutes to allow traffic from a adjacent street with 10 vehicles to cut across!!! We need some kind of traffic monitoring and more so ever we need to enforce the public to follow traffic rules. To do this we need to start from RTO where driving licence is issued.
    It is a shame that people can get driving licence by paying money to driving schools…so how can we expect such people to follow rules???

  24. sj (unregistered) on December 15th, 2006 @ 4:43 am

    Your state really I didn’t know that are you the CM Nilu or MLA I have never heard of it being your state you village idiot.

  25. Nilu (unregistered) on December 15th, 2006 @ 12:10 pm

    You see SJ, Tamil culture is made in its villages. You have made your elitist stand clear by calling someone a village idiot. You have no place in our culture. Please get out. Also, learn grammar.

  26. Govar (unregistered) on December 18th, 2006 @ 2:34 pm

    Very true. We Indians are an uncultured lot. No disputing this fact.

    Infact, speaking about it, Chennai is FAR better than most other Indian cities. There is not a single place north of vindhyas which is not engulfed by the pan culture. People spit everywhere. Every historical monument – including Fatehpur Sikhri and Taj – are reddened with Pan.

    And no, this has got nothing to do with education. It’s a culture thing.

  27. Pattinaththaan (unregistered) on December 31st, 2006 @ 2:27 pm

    Who is Nilu by the way to ask others to get out of the state?

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