One Deed At A Time
Vasundhara Agarwal, Division 2, 11th grade

I want you to close your eyes and imagine. Imagine a city dissected by hundreds of narrow streets, each flanked by brick houses. Rundown brick houses with faded paint peeling slowly off the walls, leaving bare damp bricks for moss to latch onto. You are driving through one of these streets. In front of you is a cow, sauntering along as regally as a lion in a jungle. Soon, it will feel like resting its feet and will plop down right in the middle of the road, creating a little island in this flood of traffic. Now, take a look to your left. There’s a man urinating in front of a wall which is covered to the inch with gaudy posters of politicians with flashy grins. No one interrupts him, all they do is avert their gaze and that’s what you’re going to do. Come on, look to your right now. A massive heap of garbage is spilling onto the street, sieged by street dogs fighting over a hunk of rotten meat one of them has salvaged.
I forgot to mention something. Traffic rules don’t exist here, or more appropriately, are blatantly disregarded. So don’t get too distracted. Look ahead. There’s a cyclist weaving through the traffic going the wrong way, coming straight towards you. He evidently doesn’t care about his life, but you don’t want to risk going to jail. So be careful.

Open your eyes. This place you just imagined is the one I live in. It’s my hometown, Allahabad, but could easily be taken for almost any other city in India, my country. How do I make the world a better place? I’m going to start with my hometown, before moving on to the world.

I’ve been to a couple of European countries as well as some South-Asian ones and the most palpable difference between them and India is the level of cleanliness. The people there would rather hold on to a banana peel all day long instead of dumping it on the road. They are conscientious and sensible enough to know that the road is not their personal dustbin. Here, though, it’s not unusual to see someone throw an ice-cream wrapper on the ground and at the same time, rant profusely about the unhygienic conditions in the city and the negligence of the authorities towards them. It’s not that the laws are lenient here or that littering is not a punishable offence. It’s the mentality of the people. It’s the lack of common sense. They don’t mind littering the city while placing the blame at the doors of the authorities.

I plan on spearheading a cleanliness education drive to rouse people and make them realize that they themselves have to bear the yoke of the blame which they so carelessly pass on to others. Their own indifference is the primary reason for their poor living conditions and their being prone to diseases. If you spot another person littering, you should glare at him until he is forced to pick up his waste out of shame. This is something I personally practise and make my family members do too. If we spot someone littering or urinating in the open, which is a common sight here, we stare at that person until he/she gets embarrassed. No law can cure this disease. The most effective medicine is possible embarrassment in society. At the same time, I would urge the municipal corporation to install more garbage bins so that people aren’t tempted to litter the ground.

The Prime Minister of India, Mr. Modi, has started a ‘Clean India’ campaign through which he exhorts people to pay more attention to their personal hygiene. Due to the lack of toilets in their houses, many villagers are forced to defecate in the open. Also, women there are unaware of the availability of sanitary napkins, and are compelled to stay at home during their menstrual cycles and use old clothes as absorbents. Through this campaign, public toilets have been built and sanitary napkins are being provided in such remote areas. I plan to volunteer at this campaign, and play my part in improving the society for good.

At the root of all this chaos and disorder is the lack of primary education. I try to tutor the children of the domestic help at my place as frequently as possible, and am proud to say they are now able to read and write in our mother-tongue, Hindi, quite easily. If we take to educating even a single disadvantaged child regularly, we can make a big difference in the world.

When it comes to the unruly traffic in this city, the traffic authorities cannot entirely wash their hands of the blame. Although traffic lights have been installed in the city, most of the people are still ignorant of how they work and those who do know, deliberately disregard the lights because there’s no one to hold them accountable. This has been responsible for a large number of fatal accidents at the crossings because of the chaos that ensues there due to the lights. My friends and I have written many letters to the authorities regarding this nuisance but until all of the citizens join hands and complain to the authorities, there won’t be any change.

Alone, you can’t stop wars, terrorism or hate crimes. Alone, you can’t save the world in a day. But what you CAN do is enlist the support of like minded individuals and make your immediate surroundings a better place to live in. If each one of us does this, we can collectively make the world a better, more civilized place. Let’s save the world, one good deed at a time.
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