When we decided to work on this special issue, a collector’s one, some of the older colleagues remembered their childhoods. They were intrigued by a unque fact about hand-wash habits in their villages. Most kitchens, at least in middle-class homes, were flanked on two sides by an inside verrandah, and an outside space that had the well. If one entered it through either side, one involuntarily washed one’s hands and feet — either from the water from the well, or the water stored in a cemented tank in the inside verrandah.
It is a wonder that this habit vanished when we, or our parents, migrated to the towns and cities. We lived a better life, the household incomes were higher and, yet, we lost a crucial health habit. This became curiouser when we found that research shows that if a habit is cultivated at a young age, it lasts for a lifetime. So, what happened to us? Possibly, it was peer pressure, or the plesures of the urban spaces, where there was so much to do, so little time that one ejected a lot of habits that were simple and important, yet cumbersome and time-consuming.
There was yet another thing that amazed us. Most of our homes, both in the villages and cities, are clean from the inside. We clean our rooms and other things twice, even thrice, a day. But that’s not true for the outside spaces. We are comfortable with dirt and garbage on the roads in the front and back of our houses. While working on this issue, we debated on this too. Why is it that we keep our private spaces clean and neat — remember your desk and cabin in the office — and yet don’t bother about what happens outside. We don’t even bend down to pick up a strewn plastic bag, and shamelssly stub our cigarettes on the ground. Public spaces, for us, are meant to be littered, and the municipal bodies need to take care of them.
Finally, imagine the extreme irony of our daily behavior. We are educated, we are intelligent, and we can choose between right and wrong. We are rational beings, or at least feel that we are. Yet, we are unable to take the basic precaution to wash our hands with soap on a regular basis, especially before our meals. We come back from play, and have no qualms to open the refrigerator, and grab the closest thing to eat. We go out, touch things that are unclean, and come back to sit directly at the dining table because we are starving. Is this the way an intelligent being behaves? Or is there a valve inside us that shuts when we need to do the simple, healthy, and hygienic things? Is hygiene not intrinsic to us? Well, we know that’s not true because we can be quite clean in several circumstances.