The country was celebrating 50 years of its independence. A number of events were held to mark the occasion. In our college, several art, essay, speech and debate competitions were organised; I had participated in nearly all of them. In the debate competition, the speakers had to discuss and argue India’s achievements and failures, both of which were in plenty. I had spoken in favour, and still remember a major part of my speech. I had highlighted the economic, scientific and technological achievements of the country, and stressed that the responsibility for progress of the nation also lies on all citizens. One member of the judges panel agreed with that remark; and later in her speech, put it bluntly —
“Do you want the prime minister of the country to come and clean your roads?”
I still remember her words as she had spoken them, and the intensity and disgust contained in them. I remembered these words especially when the newly elected prime minister did come down to clean the roads. Great is the will power of the citizens of this country! They could make the prime minister and chief ministers to clean their stations and roads. Wonderful indeed!
If there were any self-respect in us, we would not have allowed that to happen. The moment the prime minister put forward his intention, we ought to have felt humiliated, embarrassed and ashamed, and sprung up in action to clean up our cities ourselves. But wait, I said ‘if’ and that is a big ‘if’. Self-respect is not an attribute that we possess, and we have already long forgotten to feel ashamed or embarrassed. So we wait for our prime minister — to clean our roads, to persuade us to perform yoga (or any physical activity for that matter, I suppose) and to read books (remember his initiative as the chief minister of Gujarat).
Why not? What is wrong in that, you ask. Afterall we did stand in queue for 2 hours that day, didn’t we, and pushed the button. We did vote him to power. Isn’t he responsible for our welfare? He is a public servant, isn’t he? Yes, my dear friend, but like every public servant he too is supposed to have certain job requirements, the set of tasks he is supposed to do, and certainly it does not include ‘everything’.
This shamelessness is an integral part of the Indian psyche. We wait, we wait endlessly for a divine messenger to descend and uplift us from the sorry state we are living in. You might remember that episode from Wagle ki Duniya, where Mr Wagle decided to clean his apartment himself. Soon we find his neighbours requesting him to clean their apartments too. And it goes on till the day arrives when Mr Wagle is seen cleaning all houses of the society! Such is our attitude. We do not move a bit, and ‘adjust’ ourselves to the circumstances. However, as soon as people with a different constitution turn up and decide to bring about a change, we want them to do everything on our part as well.
You ask what Amitabh Bachchan has done for Marathi cinema; I ask, Sir what have you done for it? They ask, what has IIT Kanpur done for Kanpur climate, I ask for their contribution. It is not about getting involved in blame game; instead, it is simply about reflecting on our own actions and contributions before questioning those of others.
But surely, we have become used to this lifestyle; we invest a little capital — whether money or vote — and then everything is supposed to be taken care of. We want someone to work for us. We want a genie, who would do everything for us, while we lie on sofa, watch TV and eat pasta.
Yes, that is true; we want the prime minister to clean our roads.
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