I recently saw a video that people have been sharing on Facebook. It shows a helmet clad, unidentified woman biker in Russia, who waits by the road side.
The moment she sees someone roll down their car- window and throw trash on the road, she picks up the trash, follows the car till the next traffic signal, knocks on the window and throws the trash back into the car. This form of vigilante made me wonder if such an idea of shaming a litter-bug would ever work in India.
Even if we were to discount the fact that in this case, a woman was being a brave anti-litter crusader, back home in India, even a man would run the risk of ugly quarrels and threats if he were to object.
Hamein toh ji apni apni si lagti hain hamaari roads. Ice cream kha kar wrapper phenkna ho, yah thandi hawa mein open-air susu karna, hamaari dharti maata welcomes us with open arms. Someone dare not take this right away. Democracy hai, after all. Right?
Actually, the shamelessness when it comes to thinking of public spaces as dustbins-with-no-boundaries is so deeply engrained in our psyche, that this trait is a big leveller of status, race, caste or cultures. There’s no discrimination- we are equally indifferent when someone throws a crushed cola can from a Mercedes, as we are if someone threw a banana peel from an autorickshaw.
Aur haan, those empty beer bottles tossed out of loud music-blaring SUVs are actually symbolic of our values and love for humanity. We don’t want parents to know that we’ve been drinking in the car. So, you know, such evident respect for elders. Then we know that some poor road-side beggar will get a rupee or two by selling the empty bottle (if it hasn’t hit him in the head, that is), so it’s also donation for a good cause.
One of my rather shameless friends (I have several) once even joked that her ‘cleanliness drive’ is to ensure that the car she drives is clean, and hence she can’t hold used tissues or burger wrappers in it even for a minute. It suffocates her to see her car dirty, so she tosses them out of the car, dustbin or no dustbin.
‘Roads are anyway so dirty, and we pay taxes to have them cleaned by the sarkari sweepers’ was her defence. The fact that I made her stop the car, picked up the used tissues and held them in my hand till we reached a trash-bin, and that marked the end of me partaking in her ‘clean-drive’ is another matter.
For years after that, I was branded as this foolish activist fighting for a lost cause, by the same people who would chew gum for two hours before they saw a dustbin in Singapore, but would stick it on a park bench here in India in no time. I learned to live with it, with a sense of hopelessness, just like a lot of us activist-types.
Something suddenly changed this week. It started with our Prime Minister’s speech in America. While political pundits in Armani suites debated in TV studios about whether the focus will be on foreign investment or industrial growth, he gave the call of ‘Swachh Bharat‘ or ‘Clean India’.
He followed it up later with an challenge to celebrities from various fields, urging them to use their influence to turn our country clean, before we embark on our mission to make India the superpower it so richly deserves to be.
‘If every Indian takes a step forward, we would take 125 crore steps forward,’ he said.
Now I’m leaving the task of smelling political motive in all this, to the intellectual columnists and intelligent TV-debaters. Mujhe toh zyada samajhdaar baatein samajh bhi nahi aati. But what I saw the next morning was a Diwali gift much before Diwali for all those like me who time had turned from activist-types to pessimist-types over the years.
Everyone, especially the Gen-X seemed ultra-kicked about the idea of a clean India. Right from schools to college canteens to Facebook to Whatsapp, people seemed to be motivating each other about cleaning up our country.
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Basis our individual political-affiliations, we can, of course, find faults with this campaign, like all others. But at least it woke everyone up to the very desperate need of cleanliness as a pre-requisite before we think of bigger plans for India. So, for all those who, like me, have been seeking calmness from the stress of muck all around us, here’s what we need to do…
1. First of all, don’t let the tempo die. Public memory and interest span over things, especially good ones, is dismally short. Before some stupid scandal of a voyeuristic nature takes over peoples’ attention, do promise that you’ll keep up the momentum of the Clean India drive, in your own way.
Forwarded jokes, chori ke quotes aur cute puppies ke pics toh hum whatsapp or FB pe daalte hi hain, beech beech mein keep reminding your friends about your continued promise to work towards Swachh Bharat. It’ll give you a great feeling, trust me. And don’t worry, you’ll get as many likes, if not more, than the obviously photoshopped DP 🙂
2. If you see someone throwing trash on the road, don’t just shake your head and feel sad for the state of our country. If you can’t go up to that person and politely tell them to not do it, or if they’ve conveniently sped away, do take a minute to pick up the trash and toss it in a bin.
What’s the point in getting repulsed by the thought of picking up someone’s discarded ice cream wrapper? It’s just a mindset. Okay, if the thought of germs bother you, which, by the way, would anyway spread with that trash lying on the road, then keep a pair of disposable gloves in the car with you, and do the good deed. Full nakhre ke saath karo but karo toh sahi yaar.
3. Take the pledge of at least making small changes in your own behaviour. If chewing paan or tobacco is that very important to your happiness, keep doing it but wait a minute longer to spot a trash bin and then spit out. Keep a small paper bag in the car to discard a wrapper till you spot a dustbin.
And yeah, the RWAs can do well to offer one less samosa per person at community festivals and donating that money to put up bins or make a loo for the poor drivers waiting all day outside fancy cars. If art colleges come forward, the creativity of their students can be used to give a makeover to the boring old dustbins and turn them into funky works of art. Here’s to a cleaner, prettier India. Kar ke dekhein?
Sonal Kalra spotted Chaddhaji sneakily putting his trash bag in the neighbour’s dustbin early morning. She now knows what to gift him this Diwali.