“I hate clutter! I hate dirty streets! I hate open defecation! Do you agree, then how can you help to remove this from our country?”
Every morning, I travel to school through the streets of Delhi; streets which I can only observe through the lens of my school-bus window; streets which are still getting ready to face the bustle of the day; streets from which evidence of the previous day’s activity is only beginning to be swept away. One such street lies just before the entrance to my school. Housing a massive slum on its sides, the street plays host to the sad sight of little children, defecating on footpaths.
Each time I witness it, I think of the raging disparity between my situation and that of those little children; I think of why it is so and what I could do to change it. Each time, I draw a blank.
Such thoughts, however, tend to be resilient. More often than not, the image of the filth strewn around on the street clings to the hinges of the backdoor of my mind and creeps back in when I reach home. Sometimes, I plan on forming student organisations to lead a cleanliness campaign in the school’s neighbourhood and at other times, of approaching the school’s principal for help towards this cause. But, invariably, these ideas often end up as nothing more than examples of large-scale measures that the government can take, diligently jotted down by me as part of my answers to essay questions in school examinations.
In the late 60s, Singapore – an island country, half the size of Delhi – was in a state of public cleanliness not much better than where we are at this moment. Lee Kuan Yew – a popular visionary leader, was elected as the prime minister of independent Singapore for the first time, in 1965, and stepped down as the prime minister, 25 years later, in 1990. As the world’s longest serving prime minister, he led many elemental transformations within the government, which revolutionized the country and made it what it is today.
Today, we too possess a leader who is decisive in his manner and visionary in his intent and a government which is willing and exuberant to bring about systemic shift; but – I believe a charged populace is the essential ingredient required to stir up change – a population, driven with the willingness to bring transformation in their lives.
Therein lies my answer to the question posed to me as the topic for this essay. I don’t know how I can help rid our country of the problems we are faced with – but what I do know is that I want to change. And therefore, I am willing to make those around me, directly or indirectly, agents of that change as well.
I can not bring schemes into effect; I can not install mobile toilets in villages; I can not make the authorities work more efficiently – but I can refuse to let my friend throw a packet of chips onto the road. I can carry the bottle of soft drink back home with me, instead of letting it become the instrument by way of which some other passer-by will be convinced that this country can not be transformed.