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    Volume 9 Issue 22| May 28, 2010|

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The Grass is really Greener on the other side

Aasha Mehreen Amin

The Strait Times of Singapore reports that this year Singaporeans have scored slightly better in the 'Graciousness Index', according to what else- the Singapore Kindness Movement. It is an attempt to make people kinder and more considerate. The Graciousness Index stands at 61 points this year, up from 58 last year, out of a total of 100. According to the report, Singaporeans are behaving better, clearing their trays in food courts after eating, being more courteous at home, at school and at work. There is of course some criticism, the survey has found that road users are slightly less considerate than other road users-a black mark on an otherwise squeaky clean record.

Reading this in Hell City, was a little funny, one has to admit. I mean who could ever question the level of civility and propriety in a place as ordered as Singapore? When was the last time anyone was caught chewing gum (the stuff is banned in the country), stubbing a cigarette on the street or forgetting to flush a public toilet?

It's hard to resist a few jokes. When was the last time a Singaporean used swear words? Answer: Sometime in 1965 when Singapore became an independent republic after disputes led to its expulsion from Malaysia.

One really wonders what it's like to live in such a controlled paradise no -- traffic jams to sweat out, no eye sores like ugly concrete, billboards, banners and graffiti on the streets, -- no honking, no disgusting sounds of clearing phlegm and then spitting it anywhere and everywhere, no rotting garbage, squatting, urinating citizens, no spilling, rotting garbage, potholes or spaghetti wires hanging precariously over the heads of swarms of pedestrians swooping on a hapless city. No chaos.

In fact, students of English, as a rumour goes, have to Google the words 'chaos', 'corruption' and 'criminal behaviour' to understand what they mean.

One wonders however, whether such extreme levels of order, discipline and harmony isn't a little tedious for some Singaporeans, tired of such a predictable life. Think about a crime reporter in Singapore. What does he have to cover everyday? The last time someone 'vandalised' anything was a foreign teenager who ran a key or something along a row of cars, scratching them. He was flogged despite all the international outrage and that was that. Now the crime reporter probably snoozes in the air-conditioned, sweet-smelling waiting room of the spotless police station for a police officer to politely nudge him and delicately whisper: “ Ahem, sir, there's been an 'incident', some kids have been making rude gestures at the close circuit cameras in Orchard Road and have been caught red-handed.” Obviously, if they were on CCTV.

So what would be a good break from this tedium of a 'nothing-ever-happens' life? Singaporeans could come to Dhaka, to see the flip side of things. They could get a whiff of what happens when DCC decides to leave the city's garbage till afternoon to collect it. They could watch in fascination how vehicles contort their bodies to fit into the narrowest corners created by other vehicles, how buses stop in the middle of the road to get the passengers on board while they are still moving and how hawkers set up temporary shop in front of cars parked illegally, until the cars decide to move. They can get an idea of what it means to be free -- free to stick posters on the wall, build an apartment complex in the middle of a lake by filling it, throw garbage in front of someone else's house and free to sell anything in the streets from magic potions to stolen car parts. There is no one watching your every move. They can jaywalk anytime and risk instant death. They can take a chance at the food or fruit stalls and try formalin-fish curry or carbide-mango shake or 'dubious-meat burger with flies'. If they are lucky enough, they can even witness a real live hartal, with militant processions, fiery slogans, police barricades, maybe a few chase and counter-chases between police and 'activists'. They could take pictures but at their own risk of course.

Then to see how other humans are faring in the 'Graciousness Index' they can go to some shop in the uppity areas of town-say Gulshan and Banani and watch how salespeople glumly answer the customers when they ask for something because they are being interrupted from the movie they are watching on the screen or the significant other they are talking to on the phone or the tête-a-tête they are having with a co-worker of the opposite sex. They can also witness well-dressed 'gentlemen' breaking the queue to stand in front of the two women customers. Then they can evaluate the level of road rage as they witness car drivers beat rickshaw pullers to a pulp because of a bump with their bumper. That will definitely make them feel better about themselves.

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