Prime Minister Sri Narendra Modi has had reams written about him, and colossal amounts of prime time devoted to deify, vilify or simply ignore him. But on the first Independence Day that he addressed the nation, he rightly touched upon two burning issues that are so fundamental and basic to dignity in survival, the cleanliness of our living environment and the availability of toilets for the people of our country.
A few months back, the city where I live witnessed a strike by government workers who do one of the most basic, and yet most essential jobs, in our day-to-day life – clear up the waste and clean the roads.
Overnight, this sprawling, beautiful famous city – an internationally known upcoming ‘world city’ – was reduced to nothing more than a glorified garbage dump, with unswept streets and piles of garbage waiting to be collected from every home. It was a shame to walk down previously clean lanes and footpaths, now littered with uncollected wet and dry refuse, with stray dogs and flies galore feasting on them and an abominable stink which never went away.
Within 10 days, with the specter of an outbreak of communicable diseases hovering over their heads, the government was forced to its knees, and some sort of compromise was worked through. And, believe me, it was such a relief to know that the black garbage bags I kept outside everyday would be dutifully picked up and taken away.
I am also ashamed to say, that I realised then, that though I knew these humble people are put on rotation every 6 weeks – 2 months to clean the street, and take their monthly hafta of Rs 50-100 every month, I did not even know their names, who they were, how or where they lived,despite seeing them almost every day, and in spite of the fact that they did such an important job for us. In fact, most of the residents in the area where I live, who have blue-collar jobs, had absolutely no idea where to take our garbage for disposal even though we were willing to take it ourselves.
It took a much-needed shock like we got, to wake us up.
In the mad rush of day-to-day life, and the pressures of modern living, we seem to be consistently neglecting the simple, beautiful things that really make life worth living. Home cooked, healthy fresh food. A clean and neat environment to live in. Daily physical exercise. Roots that run deep and strong. Conversations in softer tones and moderately slow tempos (watch prime time TV and hear the well-known TV anchors batter your brain and ears with their rapid – fire, all-knowing satire and loud booming, often screeching voices – it’s enough to disgust anyone after the initial adrenaline rush!).
A study conducted by a famous soap company Lifebuoy – the Swasthya Chetna meter – listed the major capital cities of India in order of cleanliness – Chandigarh ranked first, followed by Chennai, Kolkata and Bengaluru in that order. Delhi was 9th on the list.
It’s an ambitious project – no doubt it seems so to many – but the point is – how did we reach a stage when it needed to become a project anyway?
Many times, when I have walked the smaller by-lanes and streets of my city, especially when I needed to contact my domestic help on an urgency, I was struck by the way they lived. Small one-or two room homes-with sparkling clean doors and windows and aluminium vessels that are polished and cleaned so brightly that they reflect your face in them, neatly stacked in whatever space is available. Floors which are sparkling clean, and a pot or two containing geraniums/money plants/jasmine. And of course the Tulsi plant, in its little red ‘katte’ of honour, with a mud lamp in front of it.
Cleanliness needs to become a personal and national habit with us – all over the world, in fact.
It could be a simple thing like just washing your hands before every meal, folding your sheets and making your bed in the morning, or just returning washed clothes into your cupboard, and dirty ones to the hamper before wash. Things which will not take up more than a minute of anyone’s time – but play such an important role in keeping a home clean. Extend it, gradually, and the country becomes fairly clean, at least.
National finances, defence, international foreign affairs – all vital to a country’s existence, no doubt. But the most important is the peace and happiness of its own citizens at home – and no human or animal or plant can thrive in a messy, unclean environment.
No matter how the western studies and many of our own ‘un biased, liberated and intellectual ‘ people may rate us, it goes without saying that our people are among the most hospitable and cultured in the world. With the slowly growing upsurge of nationalism that seems to be becoming the pulse of the nation (as it should), and the growing pride our people seem to be discovering in their own culture and heritage (as they should) it is my sincere and humble hope that the Swacch Bharat Abhiyaan will become a glorious success and a permanent fixture of our land.
There are already so many, nameless, faceless heroes who labour diligently at this job – from the volunteers who clean graffiti off walls to individuals who walk their dogs every morning and clean the mess they make, to people who cleaned the roads those horrible 10 days when my city was paralysed. The Ganges will someday be cleaned, and the illegal money stashed in foreign accounts will eventually be brought back and the culprits suitably punished, but until then and every day thereafter, may the Swacch Bharat Abhiyaan be a lifelong mission for every citizen of this great land.
About the Author: The writer wishes to remain anonymous. She is an alumnus of Kasturba Medical College, Mangalore and belongs to the 1993 batch.