Shyamal Chaudhary, a 65-year-old farmer was running around, trying to get the block office to sanction an irrigation project in his village. Finally, he got sick of the runaround and gave up.
Except, he didn’t really give up. He just got up and did it himself. Alone. It took 14 years, but he did it. His own farming income went up, of course, and he could fish in the pond too. Since things were hard for everyone in the village, Chaudhary shared his pond with the community. Things have been better, since.
There are many lone grams in this country. There was Kamleshwari Singh, a farmer from Bihar, who spent seven years digging. People laughed at him; some called him ‘talaabi baba’. Perhaps they thought he had gone mad. But he went on digging, and when he was done, he had created a large pond.
There’s Rajinder Singh, now described as India’s ‘water man’, who initially dug alone in ‘dark’ thirsty Alwar, trying to find water.
There was Dashrath Manjhi, another Bihari who created a road over hilly tracts with his own hands, and no help. Manjhi was lucky enough to be honoured during his lifetime and cremated with state honours when he died.
Another recent report mentioned Suresh Khanapurkar and Amrish Patel, who worked together to resolve the water crisis in several villages of Shirpur taluka, Dhule district. They did this although Khanapurkar is described as an RSS supporter, and Patel, a Congressman.
Why am I suddenly thinking of these people? Well, we have several infrastructure and hygiene problems where we live. There have been improvements over the years, but there’s no end to such problems because maintenance is a lifetime responsibility.
Much of the ‘open’ or leisure spaces promised by the builder was swallowed up or sold off. Garbage piles up on the roads. Rats breed merrily. Drains aren’t covered. Every monsoon brings the risk of floods.
My mother, by way of community service, had been slaving away at beautifying the area behind our building. Many people told her not to bother. Some mocked her. Some warned her that all her hard work would be destroyed in a few weeks. Even I snapped at her, asking why she worked so hard when the rest of the community was merrily choking up our gutters with plastic waste.
She carried on — sweeping, cementing walls, digging, colouring pots, buying flowering plants, white-washing. On mothers’ day, she got a few women together and ceremonially offered a clean corner of beauty to the community.
Another suburban friend told me about his building’s resident ‘akela chana’ — a young woman who got sick of the filth and starting sweeping the common area outside. After two months, a few other women — women only, it seems - were shamed into helping her. Somehow, the building got clean and so far, it has stayed clean.
So, I’m wondering if the oven of our problems can be busted if we just did what needs getting done. We could at least stop mocking the ‘akela chana’ who is trying.