I began repeating what I’d been repeating for about 20 times to various others,
“In spite of the fact that the big stores here charge for the plastic carry bags, people’s usage has not come down; they simply don’t mind paying the extra few rupees and buy a new one. But why do they have to do it if they can have a cloth bag in their vehicle for usage……”
“And ma’am, every day you dispose your garbage. You put all your kitchen waste and plastics together and hand over to the garbage collector but let me tell you, it is of no use…..”
Suddenly a voice popped out,
“Biodegradable and non-biodegradable!”
I look around and then down-there stood this young lady, half my height; she repeated with poise,
“Biodegradable and non-biodegradable; you shouldn’t put them together right?”
I couldn’t believe it. The young lady was a student of class 3 !
I’d been trying to do some introspection lately (you end up doing that more often when you have nothing much to do). And one startling truth is that, the projects out of which I don’t expect much, don’t have high hopes on, the days I imagine to be nothing out of ordinary -they always end up shattering my prejudices, teaching me a lesson to remember. And I didn’t expect that that day, June 5 2012, would be one such day.
It was a day out of my 69 days of semester holidays-you look at my post that tracks down what I’m doing, you’ll easily find that most of time have been spent with a book, movie or a game.http://blinkinbharg.blogspot.in/2012/06/summer-of-12.html But this was a different day, a day that added meaning to that one small point: Help some NGO with their work.
My morning went as usual (These times I actually get only an hour or two of “morning”, thanks to my ‘late to bed and late to rise’) and I was excited about the evening. I was supposed to meet people; people of Yuva Unstoppable, the NGO I am a member of. The rendezvous point was a famous hang out spot of Trichy; even more excitingly, the dress code was a black tee and blue jean
. It gave me a feeling of pride to wear that Pragyan T shirt,
coveted by the freshies of my college and it gave me an extra reason to show up
for the meet: to show off.
I went. There were two people of the main team and two to three of my school juniors. Just us. It was supposed to be a team work and we had to wait. And we did; we waited and waited and waited. I knew that this would be the case- You start with all the dream and ambition and expectation just to be run over by the ‘extraordinary support’ of your ‘dream’ team. But in a small corner of my brain there was also another voice, “Wait for it...”
A few more showed up. And then, some more. It appeared like a decent team. Sorry, did I tell you why we were there? The team was for this: It was world environment day. We had borrowed around 250 saplings from the Forestry department of Trichy and decided to give it to people who came for shopping at some of the biggie stores: who could lend a ear to our 3 minutes lecture and had space for another being in the backyard. We were divided into teams and dispersed to the shopping malls.
I was in a team of three, to start with-Sahanaa, Gopinath and me. We were standing outside RM, the mall assigned to us.
The plant saplings were yet to reach us. So, we were just standing there waiting again. Right next to us, a mom and her daughter in her late twenties were struggling to carry their huge bag of rice. She sought us, “Can you please help us carry this to our vehicle?” Gopi went to the rescue. And that was our chance: now the woman owes us; and she HAS to listen to us, I thought. We pointed at the plastic bags she had ‘shopped’ for and told her about using a cloth bag and having one at their disposal, probably in their own vehicle always.
To our surprise, she actually genuinely apologised. She said she was totally aware of what we were trying to convey and she used to follow them, but due to the rush of the hour, she forgot. She agreed that having a cloth bag in the vehicle was a good idea. Also, she gave us some insight on how the malls at Coimbatore gave paper and cloth bags for the same amount as the plastic bags. And, yes, she had a point. The first step by the biggie malls in the city will have a huge impact on the lifestyle of the people. Our saplings are yet to come; we had time.
We went inside the mall-not to shop, but to meet the manager. We went on the lookout in the wide expanse and finally got to meet him. Again, the surprise... Wait for it...
We told him of the customer we just met, the thing happening in Coimbatore, and how implementing it in their mall would have an impact. He pointed to the jute bags that was already provided but since it costs nearly 5 times as that of the plastic bags, people were not ready to get it. But he promised us that he’d try talking to the higher authorities and see what can be done. The thing that made me amaze was this,
- He gave us space inside their own mall, at the entrance to distribute the saplings (I understand that it’s a marketing technique but only a few people see this mutual benefit.)
- He actually responded to a bunch of 18 year old! People have actually taken us and our motive seriously!! That was the power when you work as a team; the recognition we got working with Yuva Unstoppable.
We got all the plant saplings, arranged them in the area allocated. We were also joined a few more of my school juniors-Divakar, Valliappan and some of my seniors-Vinod and Suresh. There it started, what extended for more than 3 hours-our lectures on reducing plastic usage, proper disposal of plastic and importance of greenery in the environment. We met a lot of people: people who had a backyard and who didn’t; people who had a few minutes to listen and who were in a hurry; people who appreciated us, who despised us; people gave a back lecture of their own organisation, people who were new to the city and wanted to know of other shopping malls (!) ; people who carried a cloth bag into the mall (to our appreciation) and people who argued how ‘busy’ their life was, that they had no time to grab a bag from home; people who thought we were trying to sell something, people who thought we were worth a few of their minutes; people who carried two or more trees home, people who used my back as a support to sign their oath(Yes, we had asked them to sign an oath that says that they’ll take good care of the tree). School toddlers, college hippies, officers, home makers, non-Tamils, non-Trichiites, grandparents, grand children-we met people of every kind. Even the guard of the mall came over to us, listened and got some plant saplings!
That was how I met the young lady who deserved the place in my first paragraph. I could see how amazingly intelligent was she and the current generation kids she represent. (She even made me feel dumb, when she had known of my college and colleges better than mine! I began thinking of how I was when in class 3; I had not a clue about degradable stuff or colleges!) And I know that our efforts were not in vain. If our team had made a small impact on her, our mission was accomplished: I believe we did; but more importantly she made an impact on me. I was determined that I should do something, anything, to give her a better place to live in. And I couldn’t believe I was thinking of all of this: I had practically hated kids! But that day had changed a lot of my perspectives.
It was not just for me: my juniors who did not get into the talking part for a while started exploring their skills. And they were just as good as any of us, even better! It was just the small tinge of confidence they needed to start things off.
The relationship with the people we met was something that lasted for just a few minutes but we made sure that our message lingered on. We knew that our face, the name of Yuva unstoppable or anything would not stay in their mind. But we knew that every time they come back to RM or go near the dustbin at their home, a small thought would cross their mind and prompt them to do the right.
Almost when the mall got empty of people, I turn around and I see our team: The team of 5 a few hours back was now a team of almost 30; everybody had gathered at RM after having their own adventures at the other shopping malls. Everyone was wearing the Yuva Unstoppable badge with a green ribbon attached to it, with a pride. As a cherry on top of it all, our head, Dr.Rajarajan spoke to the manager of RM ensuring that every effort is taken to keep the promise.
The next day, I went through the newspaper. There were a lot of articles on plant saplings distribution, ‘save environment’ rally etc. And I thought, “We don’t need this. We did what we had to do...”
Facebook group: Yuvaunstoppable-Tamilnadu