Wherever we look, we will find a solution
True, wherever we look, we can spot a problem. But it is just as true — wherever we look, we will find a solution. And not just a solution in the abstract. We will find someone who has put that solution into effect. Ever so often the solution is lying in front of our eyes — unused, neglected.
Kochi receives a lot of rain. Yet there is acute water shortage in the city. Indeed, readers will be astonished to learn, as I was when I was in the area, that even Cherrapunji — the place that, we used to be taught in our school-days, receives the maximum rainfall in the world — is short of water for eight months in the year!
But there is the simplest solution, it is right in front of our eyes. The largest water-harvesting project in Kochi, Down to Earth reports, has been undertaken at the Maharaja’s College — it will harvest over 3 lakh litres. The project uses two tanks that were once upon a time used for a gas plant by the college’s Chemistry Department but had for long been lying abandoned. As part of the National Service Scheme, students cleaned the tanks, they strengthened the floor. In Hamirpur, Himachal Pradesh, water is being harvested by rehabilitating the traditional hand-hewn caves, the khatris. In Jharbeda, a tribal village in Sundergarh, Orissa, water has been harvested by rehabilitating the local ghagra, a pond-like structure lying at the base of the slope of a hill — the pond has been revived, and a wide drain dug from the top of the hill to carry rain water to this structure. In Chennai, a commendable programme has been initiated to revive temple tanks. In another excellent initiative, water which used to flow out to the sea via storm-water drains is being channelled into the aquifer — the drains have been repaired, muck and leaves etc. have been cleared out, the bottoms of the drains have been left unpaved, shallow trenches and percolation pits have been dug along the way. The simplest steps, nothing that requires space-science, using areas, structures that were lying abandoned, broken down in front of everyone’s eyes. And yet steps that spell the difference between an obstacle and an opportunity.
For such steps to become a habit with us, we need to internalise three Gandhian lessons:
• Just as development is not just outlays, it certainly isn’t just Government outlays, a revolution is not one person doing one incredible thing but a million persons doing a million things differently.
• Each one of us can be a part of that sort of revolution. I am reminded of this every day as I see my father, now 91, labouring away with just a ballpoint and paper; as I travel and persons come up and direct me to convey their gratitude to him, I realise how, with just that ballpoint and blank paper he has made a difference, and each of us can make a difference to the lives of thousands in the farthest corners of the country.
• Every little thing we do can be part of that revolution. I was staying at a Zen temple once in Kyoto. The lady of the house was quietly at work after dinner. She was cutting the edges of wrapping paper in which gifts had been brought to the temple so that the paper could be gifted for use again. She told me that used stamps are systematically collected and sent abroad — to be sold to stamp collectors, the proceeds in turn being given to charity organisations.
One of the most conscientious of officers I have ever come across, Narottam Tripathi retired as UP’s Secretary, Forests. Since then — he is now past 80 — he has devoted himself to helping retired government servants, who are too old or otherwise unable, and their families to collect their pension benefits, to access medical facilities.
Remember Gandhiji — he had a programme for everyone. If someone could face death, he had a programme for her. If one could not face death but could devote her life to constructive work, he had a programme. If one could give up his career and go to jail, he had a programme. If one could not do that but spin in the privacy of one’s home, Gandhiji had a programme. If one could not do even that much but could merely sing, Gandhiji had the Ramdhun, the evening prayer through which one could attune to the national struggle for freedom. Nor was all this just formal association. Everything was linked to the great purpose as every little rivulet contributes to the mighty Brahmaputra.
Development is no different. There is a related fact. In sphere after sphere, in every part of the country individuals and groups are doing work that is both creative as well as service. If only one-tenth of the effort that is spent to knit together ‘‘activists’’ who are shouting against something were spent on knitting those who are doing good work, would that not work a revolution? An even simpler effort would help immensely. All too often we do not even notice the good work that is being done right next to us, nor the person doing it. When we do notice her or him, all too often we just watch. Often we watch with a sort of ‘‘malign neglect’’. We almost wait for him to fail — ‘‘Bahut samajhtaa thaa apne aap ko…’’ Often we paste a motive on him, ‘‘Failed in his job… A publicity hound…’’ Having pasted a motive, we exempt ourselves from doing anything like him. After all, we have not failed at our jobs, after all we are not desperate for publicity… We must reverse these attitudes:
• Look out for such work;
• Let persons doing such work know that you treasure what they are doing and are grateful to them.
I would put great store by even these simple, costless changes — even a change just in the way we look. Were we to act even on that lovely slogan from Thailand, ‘‘Those who smile thrice a day, will please make it six times,’’ we would commence a change within us, and thereby in our environment. When we look out not for problems, not for deficiencies, for things not done, not for the one next to us who is not doing his bit, but for things done, for persons doing good, even more so when we ourselves do something to help — specially if we do something to help someone who cannot do anything for us in return — our entire outlook changes. Over time, we are transformed.
It is the lesson that everyone living with a handicapped child learns — serving the helpless child changes us inside out. It has been truly said, ‘‘Service is selfish!’’ So, we should scout for solutions — around us, on the Internet, in survival manuals. And translate them into our own day-to-day life. A thing that needs to be done will get done, of course. But even more consequential, the feeling of helplessness that so often envelopes us will evaporate. Once a group, and not just an individual, adopts the solution, the transformation will naturally be much wider. Account after account of the kind that I have recalled above reports how, once they had got together to execute the project, feuding, acrimonious conglomerations became communities. Constructing that check-dam, building a community gobar-gas plant and systematically collecting dung and agricultural waste for it, cultivating Spirulina, harvesting water vaulted bickering sections above caste, above narrow religiosity.
An acute observation, a noble example
There is a telling remark that R R Diwakar once attributed to Annie Besant. Annie Besant was immersed in and committed to India. She was a close friend of Diwakar’s father, the well-known philosopher, Dr Bhagwan Das, and used to stay in their house in Benaras. ‘‘What is the matter with us?’’ Diwakar recalled asking her often. ‘‘You love us. But you never answer this question. How is it that just a few Englishmen are able to rule over us? What is the deficiency in us?’’ She would always change the subject. But one day he persisted. After a long pause she remarked, ‘‘You are not a generous people.’’
A pregnant observation. We cannot stand the success of another. Our throats dry up when we have to praise another. By contrast, how quick we are to locate and proclaim faults in others. I have a private game. I often ask persons in public life, on occasion persons in other professions too, ‘‘Who are the five persons you admire most?’’ They take much longer to answer than they do when I ask them, ‘‘Who in your estimation are the five most undesirable persons?’’ And when they do answer, there is a telling difference. The list of persons they admire consists mostly of persons who have passed away, while the list of undesirables consists mostly of persons who are around! And there is another difference. The list of persons they admire seldom has a person from their own group or profession; the list of undesirables consists almost wholly of persons from their own profession, often from their own group!
The counter-example is Ramana Maharshi. So many who spent time with him noticed that he saw only what was good in another. Ramana devotees will remember a tell-tale incident. In his Reminiscences, Kunjaswami narrates: ‘‘In Tiruvannamalai, there was a rich man by name Kandaswamy. His conduct was not particularly good and the local people detested him. He used to come and see Sri Bhagavan occasionally. In his last days, he suffered from poverty. Once he wanted some special gruel and sent word through someone to the ashram. He was staying in a dilapidated temple opposite the ashram. Sri Bhagavan arranged for gruel to be sent to him. This was sent on three successive days. On the fourth day, Kandaswamy passed away. We informed Sri Bhagavan of this. We thought Sri Bhagavan would not have anything good to say about this man. What a surprise! Sri Bhagavan said, ‘Nobody can keep his body and clothes as clean as Kandaswamy. He was next to Injikollai Dishitar in cleanliness. He used neither oil nor soap. He would come to the tank at eight in the morning and start washing his dhoti and towel. By the time he finished his bath, it would be 12 noon. His hair and beard were spotlessly clean.’ We were really ashamed of ourselves. Sri Bhagavan was unique in seeing only the good in others.’’
‘‘Seeing only the good in others,’’ at least in those who are doing good work — what a good way to begin to be Ramana.
The writer is Union Minister for Disinvestment, Communications and Information Technology