First, the news: India hopes to shame its citizens out of spitting and littering at heritage sites. And it hopes to do this with an advertising campaign showing school-children looking dismayed and disapproving of the dirty habit.
And now, the good news: It seems that for once the Ministry of Tourism has really put its head together in choosing well its young campaigners, if what I am going to narrate you is anything to go by.
This one is, quite literally, an ‘out-of-the-mouth-of-babes’ kind of
The incident happened at the most unlikeliest of places and in the most unexpected of manners. I was accompanying my friend and her 12-year old daughter Nishu, on a shopping spree to South Extension over the weekend. It was a merry ride, because one was not driving or having to manoeuvre endless traffic snarls and out-manoeuvre pesky drivers. A smooth ride by Delhi’s standards thus far when the idyll ended and we came to a sudden halt at Ashram Chowk and another jam.
We were waiting for the traffic lights to turn green when my friend’s daughter, with all the aplomb of a very serious and inspired youngster, suddenly got out of the car and moved to a car ahead of us. Nishu was busy shaking her head and finger admonishingly and pointing to an empty box of pizza and a soft drink mobile that had just been chucked from the window of the passenger seat.
Alarmed, my friend rushed to the scene of action and rescue her daughter before trouble started. But Nishu was in a militant mood. She refused to budge till the inhabitants of the car—all fully-grown adults, by the way, got out and
picked their garbage and put it right back inside the car for ‘proper’ disposal.
“You are not supposed to do that, you know. How can you chuck things on the road! Do you throw banana peels and paper scraps on the floor of your house?” Nishu was telling the inhabitants.
My embarrassed friend, who by now had turned a healthy shade of beetroot, profusely apologised to the car’s inhabitants for her daughter’s cheek when one of the middle-aged inhabitants surprised her, and pleasantly so, by ‘acknowledging’ that “we were in the wrong.”
Then with an embarrassed smile apologised to Nishu saying that he would never again be so thoughtless.
Mercifully the lights had still not turned green, so there was no angry honking, but there was lesson for all, not so subtle but definitely there—we must respect public places and property.
Too often we show scant regard for our surroundings, our heritage, our monuments our public places and utilities. We expect to enjoy all rights and access to utilities without wanting to share the responsibilities that come with those rights.
The India Gate lawns despite the many effort of the civic authorities are not a pretty sight to behold after picnickers have left. Plastic bags and flowers continue to be junked in the Yamuna despite warnings that the once majestic river has been reduced to a filthy stinking drain, and love messages continue to adorn the ancient walls of our heritage monuments.
People abroad clean up the beaches and picnic spots after they finish partying, chewing gum wrappers are duly tucked in the pockets for proper disposal if the bin is not in sight and spitting is a big no-no.
Surely we in India, blessed with a heritage that goes back many thousand years, in which we take little pride, can join hands to do our bit to keep the rich legacy alive.
If the ‘say no to firecracker’ campaign’s success is any indication we can look up to our young campaigners to successfully take up the cause of heritage and “show adults the way!”