Satish C. Bhatnagar ; 09/19/19 Yahoo News. “San Francisco spent $54 million on street cleaning in 2018. Both the Public Health Department and the Public Works Department claimed to have collected hundreds of thousands of needles in the Tenderloin last year. The city has also set aside nearly $3 million for a “hot spots” crew in charge of cleaning the areas near homeless encampments, and another $1 million for updates to Pit Stop, a program providing mobile toilets and dog-waste stations. The city even has a “poop patrol” — those employees earn more than $184,000 a year to clean up feces.”
For a moment, I was nonplussed as to what to say after reading the above news piece, though I have been living in the US for the last 50+ years. Yes, I landed in Bloomington, Indiana in August, 1968. Shortly afterwards, I ran into Chacko, an Indian graduate student, who was doing a PhD too. His part time job was a kind of ‘enviable’ at $5/hour, as the rest of us were paid hardly $2/hour for cleaning the apartments in summer. He collected sewage samples with a dipper from several points of the sewer system of the city. The Hindus cringed and recoiled at the very thought of such a job. But Chacko’s Keralite Christian upbringing had inculcated in him a dignity of labor, which was a mere cliche for the Hindus.
Since then, I have learnt that all the sanitation jobs in the US are highly paid. A few years later, I was shocked when I was told that a garbage collector earned twice the salary of a school teacher. The only qualification for garbage collector was to be able to toss a 40-50 lb bag of trash to a distance of 40-50 feet. While on an actual job, they may have to do it 1000 times a day! For a perspective, a San Francisco poop patroller’s annual salary of $184,000 is almost twice my annual salary of a university professor after 45 years of service! Yet, the scavengers of India earn a pittance for this very menial job. What a contrast!
This news indicates a depressing side of the US urban life. The decades of affluence have brought decadence, laxity and promiscuity to the extent that living off the streets under various welfare programs is becoming a norm. The more the US veers towards democratic socialism (different from autocratic socialism), the more the government freebies are on the way to the homeless, jobless and mindless criminals. However, homeless in the US has no semblance to a homeless person in the Indian subcontinent. For the last 20-25 years, the US metropolitan cities have become magnets for people who defy all social norms. San Francisco, once considered as one of the most beautiful cities in the US – through the 1990s, has started melting down for a number of reasons.
In the US, it is still unthinkable that men and women would defecate in public places. A couple of years ago, though I did see it in San Francisco streets with my own eyes in the morning hours. In India, when a train enters the outskirts of a railway station, a perennial sight is of men, women and children toileting in the open along the railway tracks at any time of the day or night. In India, it is due to utter poverty. In the US, it is a trendy lifestyle! On the UNLV campus, students flash their skins wearing shorts and pants with holes and threads falling off. In India, beggars wear such clothes. In an affluent society, a guilt complex does set in, amongst the filthy rich of several generations. Identifying with the poor and the have-nots in any shape or form is a way out of this guilt trip.
Life of an individual, society or of a nation does go through ups and downs. It is not a constant function! Let me add that due to a national campaign of ‘Swaccha Bharat’ (Clean India) launched by Prime Minister Modi five years ago, there are noticeable strides in public cleanliness in India. Wake up Metropolitan USA!