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Monday, May 13 2013 11:00 PM

CRAIG GARRETT: Through Amritsar's eyes, our city is indeed oasis of sublime

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    Craig Garrett

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The mayor of Amritsar, Bakersfield's sister city in India, recently told a newspaper in his country he was impressed that Bakersfield was squeaky clean and full of law-abiding, honest citizens. Many in Bakersfield must have scratched their heads in wonderment at his comments, which were quoted in The Californian on April 27. Quit scratching. It's all about perspective.

The fact is that India is a Third World country and we aren't. (By its most common definition, Third World -- a term coined by French demographer Alfred Sauvy in 1952: "tiers monde" -- refers to the countries that are struggling to gain footing on the world stage.) It's not that India doesn't have economic development, it's just that due to the widespread poverty, lack of educational opportunity, high population growth and a traditional rural social structure that inhibits anything but the status quo, its progress is stunted.

Amritsar Mayor Bakshi Ram Arora told the Hindustan Times that Bakersfield has no trash. I have visited Amritsar 10 times and I can tell you from the Indian perspective there is in fact no trash in Bakersfield. We not only have cans for trash but different colored ones for different types of trash.

My first trip to India was an eye-opener. I could not find a trash can for my Domino's Pizza box and later, when my Indian friends told me to just throw down my ice cream wrapper, I was perplexed. In the mountainous areas of India, there are a few cans but in the highly populated cities that is not the case. Everything goes on the ground. Women throw everything they do not want out the door to be swept up the following morning. It all goes to a community dump where cows, birds and pigs forage for sustenance. Littering is an acceptable act that the people consider normal. No wonder Bakersfield seems clean to the mayor -- from his perspective of cleanliness it is. The mayor might want to bring in a different sort of Indian, Iron Eyes Cody, to see if he can help.

The mayor was also correct when he said we in Bakersfield are law-abiding. We are, when you understand where he is coming from. On my first trip to Amritsar I thought I was going to die during our 81/2-hour journey from New Delhi to Amritsar. We were usually traveling about two feet from the car in front of us. Red lights were usually ignored as unnecessary annoyances. Horns honked incessantly. My friend's car was equipped with a police siren that convinced other drivers to move aside and allow us to pass.

Another reason traffic laws are largely ignored is because the Indian police do not have $37,000 cars to chase down lawbreakers. Many Indian policemen have sticks as weapons and their mode of transport is their feet. I remember witnessing about eight near-head-on collisions because drivers decided to drive on the wrong side of the highway -- because they could.

Over the past four years, India has seen enormous growth, with freeways being built, mall construction and new housing projects. But the rapid population growth is driving the country into deeper waters of economic woe. Overpopulation creates more poverty, with fewer and fewer receiving educations. The combination of poverty, overpopulation and lack of education acts as an anchor on India.

Hence, Bakersfield will indeed look clean through the eyes of a mayor whose country is unable to police its population or deal with lawlessness and trash. And the beat goes on.

Craig Garrett of Arvin works as a harvest supervisor for Sun Pacific Farms and teaches martial arts through the Bear Mountain Recreation Department. Community Voices is an expanded commentary of 650 to 700 words. The Californian reserves the right to edit all submissions for length and clarity.

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