Cleanliness – A path towards Godliness!

Cleanliness is next to Godliness.” This is probably one of the most abused sayings not only because of it being used so much especially in schools but also because it is rarely respected.This along with the “A friend in need is a friend indeed” were probably two of my most favourite quotes right until I reached college.So why is it that the concept of cleanliness and hygiene which is taught to us probably in class 1 is forgotten in our adulthood? Which is why I want to take this journey of hygiene and sanitation right from our ‘naive‘ childhood to us being ‘responsible‘ adults.

Schools Days

When I talk about school days, I refer to classes mainly up to 7th grade. It’s a time when a lot of importance is given to cleanliness by everyone around by both parents and teachers. It is also the time when what our parents say means the world to us. And we follow each and everything they say! Some of the things that we are constantly reminded at home are:

1.”Brush your teeth twice a day or else all your teeth with fall off by the time you get to be our age” and then they flash their shiny white teeth as a proof and you are in awe of them.
2. “Cut your nails regularly or else dirt will get stuck under them and you will eat it.
3. In the same breath they will also remind you to “wash your hands for 5 minutes with dettol soap before food or else germs will enter your stomach and build a house there and you will fall sick.” Its not the falling sick part that you are afraid of, rather its the injection given by your ‘friendly’ neighbourhood doctor uncle that frightens you the most.
4. “After playing with friends (especially in the mud) have a nice bath or else you will smell like the gutter and rats will come to sleep with you.”
5. “Always throw paper in the dustbin because that way you will do good for your country.” And you would do it even though you didn’t know what progress our country would make by us throwing something into the dustbin
6.”Never dip your finger in the water that you drink”(even if you cut your nails or wash your hands)
7. “Never pee on the side of the road.” I always thought that it was because the street dog might come and bite you.
8. “Don’t eat ice candy sold on the street, because the ice candy man licks them when he gets thirsty “– Ok this was probably only for my wife!
But you have to admit it, that we religiously follow everything that is taught to us at that age. And these are valuable lessons which we SHOULD keep in mind throughout our lives.

High School
High school leading into college is a difficult time as it usually is a very confusing phase in one’s life. Here you are slowly exposed to the outside world and not everything about it can be good. Its also a time when doubts start creeping up in one’s mind about the thoughts imbibed in us by our parents and teachers. Friends take precedence and all of them cant be a good influence. The beliefs that we lived by until then slowly give way to overconfidence and sometimes brashness.

1. It’s a time when laziness puts cleanliness in the back burner. Brush twice a day? Why? When we do it once with so much of difficulty!
2. Hand washing takes a backseat – Especially at those cricket matches at the local maidans after which we run to the paani puri fellow at the corner and gulp down the watery treats with muddy hands all the while wondering where the extra salty taste that came from.
3. And when you play with your friends and want to relieve yourself you don’t mind going to the side of the road and checking out who has the most powerful stream of them all.
4. You see people spitting paan on the road and don’t mind spitting out your gum the same way which you bought to increase your cricket and pokemon card collection. Worse is when you see the boards DO NOT SPIT HERE or DO NOT URINATE HERE and people spit and urinate on the boards!

Yes it’s a time when guidance is very important. We think we know everything and probably we do but without the constant reminders we forget the basics of sanitation and cleanliness which we had learnt when we were kids.

Medical College
Medical college was a long & arduous journey spread over 8 and half years, which included first 5 and half years of MBBS and 3 years of Masters in Surgery. During this time there is no hiding away from hygiene or the lack of it. The wards are filled with patients coughing and sneezing(most of the time in your face), wounds with pus draining from various sites. Washing hands or wearing masks is not an option but a compulsion more to protect yourself than your patients.

Added to that we had the ‘house visits’ as a part of community medicine in rural areas where we learn about hygiene , waste management, facilities in the villages and then are expected to teach the right way to go about it.The fact that the houses don’t have toilets and we have to advice them about the same is in itself appalling! We , in groups of 3 or 4 would advice them about hand washing, waste disposal , boiling drinking water which though have been taught to us since schools seems alien to them! That is when you realise that what you had be taught years back is actually paying off! A major concern is water stagnation which causes vector borne diseases like malaria. Till then you just read about it in books, this was where we actually got to see them. Then again don’t we see the same in our cities too? So much for being educated but not implementing what we learn (Are we still living in high school?)!

The 3 years in surgery took everything to another level. Having suffered a severe eye infection within the first 3 months of joining the course which was found to be hospital acquired made me even more vigilant when it comes to hand washing. Handwashing acquired a new meaning because if we didn’t follow it , it would mean a difference between a clean wound and an infected wound. The difference which made an enormous impact on the patient both affecting the hospital stay as well as the cost.

And Now….
Done with studies, now working and been blessed with a son who is now 2 months old. This has obviously taken personal hygiene up by a couple of notches. Our nails are always cut short so that we don’t accidentally hurt him, his milk bottles are always sterilized, we as well as the visitors are not allowed to touch him without washing our hands. He doesn’t have to brush his teeth right now because he doesn’t have any. We make sure there is no stagnant water anywhere near the house because I know what it can lead to from our house visits few years back. We definitely don’t dip our fingers into drinking water to check if it is warm!
I go to hospital and teach the students about the same so that our patients don’t suffer. Its like a dual responsibility and I realise that most of it is what I have been taught right from my childhood.

Probably in a year or two Ill be showing my little one my shiny white teeth and telling him to brush twice a day!

Cleanliness is a journey to Godliness!

Authors Note : This post is a submission to NDTV’s #SwachhIndia contest in association with Dettol and Indiblogger

                         To know more about the initiative click –

                         The sketches in the post have been created by Dr Nishita Fernandes who co -incidentally also happens to be my only wife. The images have been reproduced with her permission with a deal to split the prize if I win


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