It was sometimes in 1997 that I found myself spending a few days of well-deserved leisure in Kloten, a town near Zurich Airport in Switzerland. This was my first visit to this earthly paradise, and I was immediately struck by the ‘surgical cleanliness’ of everything within sight. So much so that one could metaphorically ‘pick up a fallen piece of food from the road and eat it’.

I found that people preferred to either walk or pedal their way from one place to another and decided to follow suit. Wanting to buy a Swiss Knife for my son back home, I left my hotel and began sauntering towards one of the Migros chain of stores about two kilometres down the road. Perfectly at peace with the world and happy, I popped a chewing gum into my mouth and without a second thought threw the wrapper into the flower pots that lined both sides of the route. The next moment, an angry female voice shouted something at me in German. Looking up, I saw an elderly female ‘directing fire and brimstone’ at me and pointing at the spot where I had thrown the wrapper. It did not require an understanding of the German language to see the error of my ways. Quickly picking up the tiny bit of paper, I put it in my pocket and headed speedily for a trash bin at the corner. Looking back, I saw the woman leaning out of the window watching me and felt her eyes boring into my back until the time that the piece of litter in my pocket found its rightful place amongst others of its kind.

I have on numerous occasions questioned our national culture of throwing trash in public places and mindless littering. This morning, while driving to work, an expensive vehicle nosed up ahead of me. I then saw a bejewelled hand emerge from a tinted window and throw a fast food cardboard box on the road. The sight was one that I had been seeing every day - here, there and everywhere in the ‘Land of the Pure’. There was a time when I used to stop the offending individual and deliver a lecture, but things have changed, and I have got along in years. Therefore all I do is watch and fume. There are nonetheless occasions, when the offence is so gross and my inability to intervene so frustratingly that all I can accomplish is to stop and pick up the offending object for proper disposal.

I have often cited a large chunk of the Pakistani Nation as unwell, and the tendency to litter is without any doubt one manifestation of the malady. More sickening is the spectacle of people spitting in public places. The habit is not only dangerous as it can spread disease, but it is disgusting. This disgust often turns to wrath and muttered curses, when I see well dressed, apparently educated individuals spreading sputum for others to step into.

Having my maternal origins from the old walled city of Lahore, I am no stranger to the narrow maze of streets with open gutters running on the sides or in some cases, right down the middle. Six decades down the timeline, I still see children squatting on these waste carrying structures answering the inevitable call of nature. In a recent visit, I found myself the unwilling target of a bucketful of trash emptied from a window, high up in the towering rickety structures that border these streets.

In the words of my favourite television personality, known for his no holds barred ‘on air’ comments, Pakistan is suffering from a total absence of decency and civic sense. This flawed character is a result of poor or no education and a coterie of even poorer role models, i.e. our politicians, our leaders, our teachers and not to say the least - parents. These individuals must bear the collective responsibility for what we have become – uncouth, uncivilised and unaccountable.


n          The writer is a freelance columnist.

Disgust often turns to wrath and muttered curses, when I see well dressed, apparently educated individuals spreading sputum for others to step into.