Specky and I were walking from Ajmeri Gate towards Chawri in Old Delhi when the man walking just ahead seemed to lose his balance, crashed on to a rickshaw and crumbled on the street lifeless. The rickshaw stopped. I spent three valuable seconds deciding what to do with the camera in my hands… and then in a split second I asked Specky to hold it as I bent down to support him.
‘He’s alive!’ I muttered as I lifted him with his head cradled in my arms. He opened his eyes and I asked, ‘Are you hurt?’
‘No,’ he said and with my help got on to his feet. He didn’t curse the rickshaw-wala and did not create a hue and cry about anything. He just thanked me, brushed the dust off his clothes and stood there breathless as he managed to utter, ‘I’m fine.’
All this while tens of people passed by.
Every city needs people who pause, stop, and help a stumbling soul back up. Cities need people to bend and pick up litter to clean it up. Cities need people who resist temptations to pocket things that don’t rightly belong to them. Cities need heartfelt and mindful involvement with its day-to-day affairs.
It was yesterday that I saw a handful of volunteers from a fledgling political party busy picking up litter from the corridors in Connaught Place. No, I didn’t ask, ‘Why do you do this?’ but simply joined in their effort to make our city more liveable. I also noticed that there were tens of people who actually joined in after getting over their initial hesitation. Later in the evening as I downloaded the pictures of these volunteers walking away with a bagful of ‘kachra’, Specky remarked, ‘I noticed that people who actually helped clean up were a really diverse lot. And they were enthusiastic after their initial hesitation.’
‘It was almost like hordes waiting for the first person to take his camera out. The first sound of click acts like that celestial catalyst that launches a race to click the best picture. So camera-behaviour is actually citizen-psychology, isn’t it?’
‘Sort of,’ agreed Specky and added, ‘so I think good behaviour waits for the right triggers.’ So yes, cities also need triggers to help it stand upright.
The obvious question in your mind now would be, ‘Is there a definite and universal solution for my city?’ The answer is: NO. There are no universal solutions. The reason is simple enough. Solutions can be logical, illogical, possible, impossible, fiction, real, fantastical, with precedents or without precedents, popular or unpopular, political or apolitical… it doesn’t matter which genre of solutions they emerge from. All that matters is that there is some real action at the right moment. As I mentioned earlier, what matters is willingness to take action and the existence of the right triggers.
‘There is so much poetry all around,’ a friend had once mentioned as she looked around standing with me on my seventh-floor balcony. I remember I had looked down at the motley collection of the single and double-storey houses of Multani Dhanda and Chuna Mandi with their shabby brick exteriors and wondered where this poetry would actually be found. In fact, I did the next best thing and asked her what she meant by what she had just said.
‘They’re all different rhymes for different people,’ she said, sounding like an Oracle about to reveal the mysteries of life, ‘but just a meaningless amorphous lump of economic deprivation for those who see their city through binoculars and then conveniently attribute all its ills to these parts.’
I said, ‘So it is easy to blame others for the crime that is there in the city, easy to point fingers at others for lawlessness, convenient to call others the ones who litter, and all the while go tsk-tsk when the TV anchor wails about the city woes!’
‘You’re right, and so we all need to do our bit.’
And that evening I wrote:
Smear a bit of your heart
On crumbling walls
And, for God’s sake, start
At least, do your part.
Begin by not doing
What you must not
And then by shooing
What you think is rot!
Specky liked the tone of the poem and asked, ‘So this means that we need to go out of our homes and help the city, right?’
‘Not just that, we need to walk much more than we do now.’
We’re so in the habit of just zipping through all the absurd realities that surround us and swerving to miss all the potholes of existence that we have stopped seeing the wrongs. The first step, I believe, is to come out of our homes and walk through the areas that are around where we stay… and get closer to rough weather ravaged clusters of existence that tend to look so award-winning in pictures that our SLRs click! So yes, walk and observe. So we walked all the way to our maid’s house… a dingy one-room inside a dark lane. A one-room home where four kids and their mother wanted to live life as they wanted to but found it terribly hard and impossible. ‘Is it possible to study with the television switched on?’ I asked the maid.
She nodded with a smile that was obviously confused and didn’t know if it was produced at the right time or not. So we began by asking her to let the two younger ones who wanted to study in peace come to our house with their books… and they could sit there and study in peace. The elder two, I insisted, need to find work and not just sit around doing nothing. So one of them found herself a job at a local beauty parlour and the second is content to cook for the rest of the family. So what we need to do to make a city breathe and hum with a happy tune is to get involved with what it has. Just a bit of heartfelt involvement meandering through some mind-generated solutions help. This happens when we decide to take a walk!
Does this mean that people with cameras can’t help?
Does this mean that blogging about city ills is not desirable?
Does this mean spreading awareness through social media isn’t fine?
No… not at all. All the above are equally vital and must go on relentlessly. They are all, as I mentioned earlier, potential triggers for the right behaviour. But most important, I must admit, is your own willingness to step out and help.