Whenever I see litter on streets and public places my heart squirms. I feel sick in the stomach. It’s just the way I am. When I was young(er) I often got into arguments with friends, and at times complete strangers, when they littered. It did not do much for my popularity index as you can imagine. 😛
For someone like me, hence, the move to India meant I had to learn to shut up if I was to have any semblance of civil conversations.
A firm believer of the three R’s— Reduce, Reuse, Recycle—my contribution to protecting the environment has been limited to following these ‘rules’ over the years. How could I do anymore? How can I do anymore? I, thus, excuse myself from the debris around me. It is the easy way out. Not taking responsibility for spaces outside my own personal ones.
Like the millions of people who deface India with garbage, I am no different. I deface it with my apathy. The ugly Indian is the one who litters. The ugly Indian is also the one who looks, and walks on, accepting it with a defeated cynical shrug or maybe a rant in person or social media. Both are equally undemanding responses.
Then something changed for me. I got my hands dirty. 🙂
But hey, rewind.
How did I cross over and start taking responsibility for public spaces and litter I did not even create.
I was introduced to The Ugly Indian, a movement by a group of ugly Indians (the number is growing everyday) who feel strongly about the state of visible filth in our cities, in a train-the-trainer program. The program was part of our Daan Utsav volunteers’ national meet.
The training comprises getting my hands dirty and cleaning a public space in Ville Parle. The site is in front of the State Bank of India offices; it is littered with glass bottles, plastic bags, wrappers, construction waste and a zillion cigarette butts. The potted plants placed by the Bank have morphed into corpses in the blistering Mumbai heat. Passer-bys throw even more rubbish on the heaps—the piles seem to symbolize in some obscure way dustbins and invite further refuse.
Armed with gloves, face masks, spades, brooms and paints, our volunteer group of 20 transform the area from a decrepit patch into something almost lovely in a space of just two hours. People stop by. Stare from their windows. Some college kids join in. The Bank’s security guard offers to mix the paints. The owner of the nearby kiosk joins in the sweeping.
Without rants or sermons a community is awakened to take responsibility. The fruits of it are for all to share.
It is 8.00 am. My styled hair is matted with dust. A huge grin splashes over my face. I don’t even live in Ville Parle. This was the first time I had come to the locality. But I had transformed it with my fellow volunteers and received promises from the community that it would be kept clean. That is enough for now.
The inhibition is broken. My hands are open to the idea of cleaning another’s garbage, because public spaces belong to others AND me.
Next on my list—Bandstand, where I agonize every time I pass the urban garbage clinging to wet rocks on my evening walks. And my volunteer friends have happily signed in. So if one morning you see us with picks, shovels and paints, that’s us—the ugly Indians now beautiful Indians.
Spot fix guidelines:
- No lectures, no moralising, no activism, no self-righteous anger.
- No confrontation, no arguments, no debates, no pamphlets, no advocacy.
- Don’t step on anyone’s toes, don’t take sides in any ideological debates.
- Support existing systems and improve their effectiveness for the greater good.
- Basically, get real. Treat everyone with sincerity, respect and dignity first, and the greater good will be an outcome.
A ‘solution’ is a real solution only if:
- It sustains in the public street for at least 90 days.
- With no supervision.
- Is low-cost (ideally free) and easy to implement and replicate.
- Changes the behaviour and attitudes of all concerned.
- Creates minimal change in the daily actions of everyone concerned (nobody should lose a job, lose a source of income, or get seriously inconvenienced–because it takes only one Ugly Indian to undo the good work of a hundred others).
6.00 am outside State Bank of India, Ville Parle
Litter litter everywhere
Daan Utsav volunteers at work
8.00 am outside State Bank of India, Ville Parle. Cleaned, painted and lo behold, what a lovely sight
Spot fixed!!! 😀
Note: The above post forms part of my blog’s Giving Back series which explores giving back initiatives in India.