It’s indeed a very romantic notion. Almost patriotic. Perhaps even a calling. On a closer look, it also inherently appears to be straight out of a Bollywood movie script attempting to strike an emotional chord with the masses in an attempt to strike box-office gold. At least that’s what the newly elected PM seems to symbolize. And he is getting increasingly successful with it.
But it’s neither of them. Instead, this notion has risen from a slew of unbalanced experiences which regularly manifested in various forms – the annoying clerk at the government office, the incorrigible auto-rickshaw driver, the lazy watchman or the rude maid. Time & again, I was left to wonder the disharmonious environment which I was subjected to every day. While it’s perils remained a burden assiduously avoided, it nevertheless created an illusion of being un-controllable entirely. The various avatars in which it would sometimes explode (& sometimes just gradually creep in) would leave me, inexorably, exasperated. The arduous trip to work each day full of traffic jams & angry motorists twisting & twirling their way through the barrage of cars (& potholes) often leaving me in a state of complete disenchantment of the city I so proudly claimed to be my soul. Not to mention the gigantic hoardings of politicians en route, each grotesquely over-whelming. Or the greedy-to-the-bone real estate agent trying every trick to coerce me into believing that he is looking for my best interests. And how could I not mention the lazy watchman who frequently forgets to clean the car each morning, yet, unfailingly, comes by each month for his salary.
The list of grudges just kept growing. And growing. To a point where I too seemingly began to accept this reality as my destiny. Resigning to it as helpless as a street beggar. And all the while, losing that quintessential hope of seeing a better future. Of waiting for “someone” to “do something” about it. It almost felt like a design, based on similar predications of others, meant to create a mass perception of despondency. And it was working.
I soon began to see a chain reaction, the precursors to a very simplistic, yet profound understanding of a fundamental human trait – change aversion. Interestingly, it dawned upon me while I was reading an article on India’s freedom struggle from British colonialism. And one man in particular. Gandhi. I personally cannot, despite my sincerest efforts, imagine Gandhi as a regular human being – with all his perfections and all his imperfections. For me, he is a larger-than-life persona. More symbolic than articulate. More influential than prescriptive. But what struck me most about him was his total denial to accept status quo. As despondent as we are today, times weren’t too different in his era either. Only the perpetrators were of a different race. The core issues remained. I began imagining how Gandhi would have to come to experience his environment. All he could have seen would have been imperialistic exploitation of an entire population and more disturbingly, a quiet acceptance of that reality under the pretext of being helpless. I began to wonder, what if, like the rest of the Indians, he too would have accepted his destiny of a slave & resigned to it. How different would India be today? Scary thought to say the least. Instead, he chose to change. And surprisingly, himself first. Then others. All the while working tirelessly to sometimes modify, and other times uproot, that human trait of change aversion. He beautifully juxtaposed the apathy & inaction of the people along side their dormant desire to have a better life. But he couldn’t have done it overnight. Nor alone. So he went about his business, one person, one group, one town, one community, and eventually, one country at a time. And he persevered. And persevered.
And now, I have begun to test that approach in my life. No, I am no Gandhi. Nor am I trying to be. But this is now, my moment of truth. Where on one hand, I can choose not to change & accept my destiny as is. Or on the other, I can choose to do something about it. Of course, now I am faced with the most daunting question of all. What can one man do? This question, I believe, has been simultaneously, the source of our greatest escape and also the source of our greatest inspiration. Unfortunately, many choose it as a source of the former.
I started spending time to figure out what can one man possibly do to change one billion? How can one man rise to the occasion and resolve every conflict, every disappointment, every betrayal? I couldn’t find an answer. And then I remembered Gandhi’s words – Be the change. And it suddenly became clear. The answer was right there in front of me all this time. I just couldn’t see it. Blinded by my efforts to find a universal solution to India’s & every Indian’s problems.
So, I began to change.
First – I changed my driving style. I no longer jump signals when there is no cop around, I no longer honk to cut lanes, I no longer curse the wretched auto-rickshaw driver who just zoomed past inches away from my car. Yes, my travel time has increased a bit as I made these choices. But I feel so much more relaxed. There is no stress of being stuck in a jam over an hour. No stress of brushing the car against the auto and then worrying about the cost of fixing the scratch. I feel much more relaxed when I reach work/home.
Second – I have started, in my own small ways, to tell people this message. Of being the change. Be it the auto-rickshaw driver I met the other day who swore on his kids that he will start following traffic rules. Or my dear friend struggling in her new job role and blaming the office environment for her frustrations. She now has decided to take control and not remain a mute spectator (I hope she sustains this change).
I don’t know whether these people I meet have changed for good. Or just temporarily because they met a crazy man who has taken this as his own personal mission – to tell people to stop complaining. And to be the change they want to see in others. I don’t know how far I will go. I have just begun. But I have conviction in this belief, having seen the results first hand. I don’t think I can alone solve all of India’s problems in one day. But then, I don’t need to. All I have to do is continue helping individuals as and when I can change themselves. And hope they will, in turn, carry it forward. Each time fixing a part of India.
One Indian at a time.