I needed some groceries urgently, so I stepped out. I was crossing the street to get to the store when out of nowhere a speeding car with blaring music whooshed dangerously close past me. In trying to avoid being killed, I moved with a darting side sweep and stepped straight on some dog poo. Alright, this was brilliant. Just what I needed to get over my illusion of attaining zen during the lockdown. I got into the line where we were supposed to keep the mandatory 6 feet distance only to find an aunty snuggle up behind me. Just then a customer exited from the store and chucked his receipt like everything in front was a mega garbage bin. Was I the only one being bothered by what was happening ? Were these transgressions not an issue for anyone else?
It got me thinking; we live in a megacity; every day, the city welcomes a constant flux of people who come here in the hope of earning a living or chasing a dream. We have people from all strata of society. From the daily wage earner to the billionaire tycoon, and the city never disappoints. But in return, what does she get? A lot of love, mixed with a splutter of spit, an occasional dump in the open, a disdain for traffic rules, a defacing of its heritage structures, a polluting of its waters, a tad of corruption, a usurping of its open spaces. A whole gamut of urban problems. But let's not forget the love.
I assumed the position of the morally pure, judged the people and decreed them inferior, (there went my dream of sainthood). For he who has never sinned should cast the first stone. Well, I too may have slightly sinned against the city. And no, I won't tell how. There had to be a better way to be of service than turning your nose up in disgust and tut-tutting in judgement.
Sometimes the authorities can't do or won't do what needs to be done. They won't rectify the problem, either because they have their hands full, or it just doesn't feature high up in their list of priorities, and bit by bit a little problem soon avalanches into a big problem. And over the years compounds to something mammoth and unsolvable.
So in my new found patience and insight, I decided to be part of the solution. I went on the internet and found some real change-makers. Real people who were tired of seeing the collective disregard for rules slowly erode their cities, people who dedicated themselves to community service. These are people who volunteer to work tirelessly to clean the beaches, to set up non-profit schools, to feed the poor, to provide dignity to the old, to give hope and education to the young. These were a brave tribe of urban warriors that have dedicated time to community service. It must have all started with something that caused them discomfort then slowly went on to take over their thoughts, I'm sure they had a choice to look the other way. Instead, they chose to address the issue and bring about a change. Not that these people didn't have busy lives or jobs to go to or families to look after, it's just that they decided to be a part of the solution and not the problem. Afroz Shah was tired of seeing a filthy beach from his window so he and his 84-year-old neighbour (inspiring),the late Mr Harbansh Mathur just went out there and started cleaning the beach themselves. Avani Singh 17-year-old just wanted to be able to see the economically poor urban woman to be able to earn a living and finally live a life of dignity, so she founded a non-profit organisation named Ummeed, which gives e-rickshaws to women and encourages them to earn and become independent. The internet was full of such inspirations.
But one doesn't always have to be a trailblazer. There is no dearth of people in need; if one cannot start a social cause because it would take an unbroken dedication and commitment, then one can participate in the many reasons that are currently being executed, either by giving your time by volunteering or by giving your resources like pledging a certain part of your income to them.
Giving Circle www.givingcircle.in is a platform that helps bring people who have a desire to participate closer to action, through the use of technology. Volunteers can join causes initiated by others or even start their own and have others join. There are myriad issues that we see before us, some that we are directly responsible for as citizens and some that need to be addressed at an administrational level. Problems of garbage disposal, water wastage, lack of tree covers are problems that can be solved at the base level by citizens by becoming civically responsible. By discouraging littering and unhygienic practices of spitting and defecating in the open and encouraging housing societies and residents to take up waste segregation and rainwater harvesting, by participating in tree plantation drives. These are just some ways where we can become a part of the solution.
Other issues that need to be addressed by the government bodies are urban poverty, tribal land annexations which lead to mass migrations, erosion of tree covers, lack of public spaces. Even so citizens need to be aware and involved in a certain amount of vigilance and activism to make sure the government bodies do their jobs.
What we see may just be the tip of the iceberg, there is no dearth of problems to be solved. As responsible citizens, we need to become comfortable with discomfort. When something bothers you enough to make you uncomfortable, it may just be the turning point in your life where you take up your arms and become an Urban Warrior for India.
A little lesson that I taught myself today that real heroes don't judge, they just work tirelessly for their cities, and it's people, they don't make propaganda of their work but quietly inspire more hands to join in till one becomes many.