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Saturday, November 22, 2014

Transformation in small steps...

With the government officers in a jeep on a 'field visit' - the senior most officer sat in the front next to the driver, the next in line sat between myself and my colleague in the middle seat and the junior officer at the back. perfect way of treating the 'delegates', which is what we were termed as...we were of course, invited to provide some 'solutions'...during the journey, when I was handed a plastic bottle, I refused and instead pulled out my water bottle. “I saw that you don’t use the plastic water bottle and carry your own water” commented the junior officer. “Yes”, I said, “I don’t have the right to come to your villages and throw plastic garbage in them, you have asked me here after all for solutions, not problems”, I said. “All that it takes for us is to carry our own water bottles”. I concluded. This was not without a reason, couple of years ago, Ananthoo, Jaishankar and myself all carrying our own water bottles and talking about this problem repeatedly had managed to influence a few district level officers in one of the departments in Tamilnadu to start carrying their own water bottles. Some of them were proud of it, they had later reported this practice did influence their district level junior officers in turn and except during the visit by seniors from the state level office, they were able to adhere to this practice.  I remembered this during the conversation in the jeep.

After some time we were handed some fruits and the junior officer who had carried the fruits in a plastic carry bag lowered the window to throw the carry bag out when I protested. I asked them, “How can you throw garbage so carelessly in someone else’ backyard?”. Ofcourse, it resulted in a longer conversation. The middle officer started, “Sir, it is all very nice that now we try and do this, first of all, we should have not permitted so much of plastic bags. Now we cannot stop the shop owners and street vendors from giving plastic carry bags, they don’t know these pollution issues, so, we are also habituated to take it. So, how can things improve…” by just you and me practicing is what he meant to ask but didn’t out of courtesy I suppose. Not wanting to leave an opportunity, I said, “well, the problem is the way we frame the question.  Let’s say we have a bad habit that is impacting our health, we need to kick the habit. Of course, we can argue that we are habituated, every addict does, but, we need to eventually overcome the same. Most of us blame habits for our own laziness and inability to take the first step”. There was an uncomfortable silence in the car after that which sustained for quite some time.

We had lunch in one of the government guest houses and as we were leaving the officials got small plastic sachets of dry amla, when offered, we refused the same. After emptying the amla, the senior officer in the front seat downed his window to throw the sachet out, there was a moment’s pause, “Mr. Ram, apologies, I shouldn’t do that”, he pulled back the sachet. “Good, so, from now onwards whenever you think of throwing the garbage like this, think of me and you will not do so”, I said. “Of course, now I cannot but think of this trip”, he conceded in good humour. “If it was Singapore, you have just saved yourself from a fine”, said my senior colleague furthering the conversation. “It is so easy to carry our own bags instead of accepting carry bags in the first place”, I added, pulling out my Small Steps and showing off the simple bag that has travels with me everywhere. “Yes Sir, I too have a bag, but, forgot that when the vendor gave me the plastic carry bag”, said the Junior officer who ofcourse had the responsibility to purchase all the needs for the trip. “That means you have a double fine, one for accepting the plastic carry bag and another for doing it despite carrying your own bag with you”, I said and gifted her my Small Steps. “From now onwards, I will remember”, she said.


Problem and Solutions, Schemes and Projects, Proposals and Reports, Reviews and Plans are all an excuse with the government. To engage and alter the process of thinking. How many carry this forward, how can we make this ‘sustainable’, how many such encounters are necessary to convert the entire machinery…several questions remain if one were to think of it. But, that day, that trip, three people have felt that they could be a bit more responsible, they have that experience which they felt good about. That is all there is. Simple, Small transformations.  Someone begins every day and that holds the promise…

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