By Yoginder Sikand, New Age Islam
“I can’t seem to recognize our village any longer,” complained Abdul to his neighbour Kishen. “It was an entirely different place when we were young.”
“Yes, things in Rajpur are really going from bad to worse,” Kishen sighed.
When Abdul and Kishen were children, life in Rajpur continued much as it had for generations. The closest town, sixty miles away, was accessible only by camel-cart. There wasn’t a single school in the entire area. Nor were there any cinemas, much less television in every home. The denizens of Rajpur led a simple, but contented, life, deeply intertwined with Nature. They weren’t rich, but they were certainly not unhappy.
But all that had changed when Rajpur began ‘developing’. The most visible marker of the transformation that overtook Rajpur were the mountains of garbage that began to line its narrow muddy lanes. Once or twice a year—whenever a local politician came visiting—the villagers would come together to clear up the ugly mess, but only if they were paid to do so.
“Rajpur’s now a vast garbage dump,” Abdul moaned. “Remember how clean it once was, even though our people were poor? They cared for the village then, but it’s different now. The more educated and prosperous they get, it seems, the more selfish some people become.”
“They don’t worry that Rajpur might turn into a breeding ground for all sorts of diseases. As long as their houses are clean, the filth outside that they produce doesn’t bother them a bit. All they are concerned with is becoming rich overnight,” Kishen rued.
Innumerable times before, the two friends had had the same conversation, but this time they decided they had to do something practical, instead of only lamenting about how bad things had got. In a few days, they managed to drum up considerable local support for sprucing up their village. You should have seen the enthusiasm with which the village folk, led by Abdul and Kishen, swept the streets and cleaned the drains! This soon became a regular, once-in-a-week collective activity.
Some village elders were aghast with the clean-up drive—it wasn’t, they said, something that ‘respectable’ people did—but Abdul and Kishen and their team of volunteers carried on nonetheless. “‘The earth is God’s creation,” they answered their critics, “and if we don’t take care of it—of the little bit of it that we inhabit—and, instead, go about damaging and dirtying it, God definitely won’t be pleased. We’ll have a lot to answer for.” With that, all opposition ceased. Soon, Rajpur stood out among all the surrounding villages for its neat, litter-free lanes.
But it wasn’t enough, Abdul and Kishen soon realized, just to sweep the rubbish from off the streets. Why produce rubbish in the first place? they asked themselves. Where did all the rubbish come from? Much of the rubbish, they discovered, consisted of plastic bottles used for soft drinks and foil wrappers for biscuits, chips, sweets, cigarettes and so on—things produced in big factories, often located hundreds of miles from Rajpur. Probing further, it struck them that till just a generation ago, these things were completely unheard of in Rajpur. That meant, they realised that like their forefathers, they, too, definitely could live without them. They weren’t absolutely necessary for a ‘good life’, unlike what television serials and in-your-face advertisements that stared at you wherever you turned insisted.
“My mother used to make mouth-watering carrot cakes!” Abdul reminisced. “It’s been years since she did so, though. People these days would rather buy factory-made chocolates. They think that’s more ‘modern’.”
“My grand-mother was famous for her Samosas, but she hasn’t made any ever since factory-made chips invaded almost every village in the country. You’ll find the same brand of chips wherever you go!” Kishen remarked.
“Remember my father’s amazing water-melon juice?” quipped Abdul. “When bottled Colas invaded Rajpur and everyone went mad about them, he had to shut down his juice shop. He lost all his customers. People think drinking juice, instead of a Cola, is old-fashioned. You won’t get a glass of nimboo-pani, which costs almost nothing, if you drop in at someone’s house these days. They’ll insist you have an expensive Cola. They think that that’s more sophisticated just because they’ve heard that this is what they drink in America!”
“Things got really bad when TV arrived in the village,” Abdul continued. “Our folks see rich, fair-skinned English-speaking people eating factory-made things on TV and think that’s the way to be fashionable or even civilised. And so, they’ll willingly waste their hard-earned money buying such things, even if they aren’t healthy or useful and even if they create mountains of garbage.”
“I’ve calculated that all of Rajpur, taken together, spends a whopping ten lakh rupees every year on unnecessary factory-made things that produce garbage,” Kishen commented. “Imagine what good use this money could otherwise be put to!”
“We need to convince our people to reconsider what they consume, and explain how silly it is to buy all those unnecessary things just because city people or movie stars use them or because TV advertisements insist everyone must,” said Abdul.
“Right on, brother!” exclaimed Kishen. “We’ll remind them about the wisdom of innumerable generations of our forefathers, who lived happy and contented, without Colas and chips and plastic garbage! That’s bound to strike a sympathetic chord!”
As a result of the tireless efforts of the two friends, the denizens of Rajpur gradually began to realise the enormous damage they were inflicting on themselves with all the many factory-made things that they obsessively consumed but hardly needed. It made economic sense, too—not spending on such things, they discovered, saved them much money, which they could use for better purposes. Buying only those factory-made things that they really required (it took a while for this to happen, though, for old habits die hard), they generated little waste. And so, in a while, no longer did Abdul and Kishen have to go about sweeping the streets and cleaning the drains of Rajpur!
If you visit Rajpur today, you’ll discover that it’s nearly as neat and pretty as it was when Abdul and Kishen were children—and all because of the inspired efforts of these two inseparable friends!