10 August 2016

Lala Achintaram

I have never changed houses. For almost 25 years, I have lived in Gujranwala Town, Delhi. Until recently, I did not know the name of the road on which my house was situated. I never needed it for postal purposes and hence the ignorance. It was only when Uber and Ola came in to the picture and my house pin read "Lala Achintaram Marg" that I discovered.

But that made no difference to me. I continued to book my cabs for "Lala Achintaram Marg" without any clue who Lalaji is/was. Then suddenly one day, curiosity descended and I googled Lala Achintaram. Following is a summary of the various things that I found out about him.

(source: http://www.tribuneindia.com/2000/20000122/windows/main1.htm)

Lala Achintaram was a freedom fighter and was a close associate of Lala Lajpat Rai. He was one of the first three members of the Servants of the People Society (founded by Lala Lajpat Rai). He participated in the Quit India Movement and was imprisoned several times (in 1930, 1939, 1940 and 1942). Post independence, he was a member of the Lok Sabha as also the Constituent Assembly. A true Gandhian, he also took part in the Bhoodan Movement. He went on a padyatra (along with Satya Balaji) in the Sirsa Tehsil and encouraged people to donate their lands to landless farmers. Lalaji was also involved in several activities that focussed on ending forced labour (begar) and improving the quality of life of peasants.

Here is a picture of Lalaji with Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narayan (source):

Lalaji's wife (Satyavati) was also a freedom fighter and like her husband had been imprisoned several times. When India (and Pakistan) awoke to freedom at the stroke of midnight, Lalaji's wife was in Lahore cooking meals for the many refugees of Partition. The family moved to India in 1948.

No one is born as a freedom fighter. Lalaji came from an affluent family and had studied medicine. He gave up his flourishing practice and took the plunge into the freedom struggle. Satyavatiji reminisces that when Gandhiji asked Lalaji to join the freedom struggle, Lalaji burnt over 30 suits and shoes as a mark of solidarity.

According to this blog, the iconic picture of Gandhiji stepping out of a Railway coach features Lalaji in the same frame. Here he is standing to the right of Gandhiji:

Lalaji left for his heavenly abode in 1961. Lalaji's son Shri Krishan Kant went on to become the Vice President of India. Lalaji and Satyavatiji's simple and inspiring life had a deep impact on Shri Krishan Kant.

That's all the internet told me. Perhaps, there is a lot more in History books and records, and maybe when I get the time I will dig through them.

Right now, I feel damn proud of living on Lala Achintaram Marg. What a great man he was!

Happy Independence Day!

Other sources:
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lala_Achint_Ram
  • http://archivepmo.nic.in/drmanmohansingh/content_print.php?nodeid=74&nodetype=2
  • http://apnaorg.com/articles/nirpuma-dutt-2/

7 August 2016

Independence Day Swachhta

In Faculty of Law, Delhi University, whenever there is a function or a program or a conference, flowering pots magically appear. These pots are nowhere to be seen on ordinary days. But on these 'special' days, they seem to be everywhere around the venue. Later, I got to know that the University has a Garden Committee and pots can be requisitioned from the University gardens for these 'special' days.

I am sure this is true for other educational institutes. It's even true for our homes. When the guests are about to come, everything is super special.

I live close to Chhatrasal Stadium in Delhi. Every year, on/around Independence Day there is a function in the Stadium and the Chief Minister graces the occasion with his presence. Independence Day is just around the corner and like Faculty of Law, ad-hoc preparations are in full swing.

Numerous saplings have been planted in the road dividers that lead upto the stadium.  A wanter tanker comes almost every evening to water these saplings. I don't know which magical saplings they have planted that would yield into beanstalks by the weekend. I am not even sure if monsoon is the best time to plant saplings. Perhaps, the aim is not to sustain the plants, but to only fix them till 15th August. Maybe like the requisitioned pots, they will also go away or worse die an neglected death. The water tankers have come only now, they don't come throughout the year.

Water tanker watering the saplings

The pavements and dividers are being painted. The fact that the pavements are broken and that people urinate on those pavements is conveniently ignored. The charade of cleanliness has to be maintained. If and when, the pavements are ever repaired, the paint job will have to be redone. But hey, the guests are already on their way!

Jurisdictionally speaking, the road on which I live comes within the jurisdiction of the Public Works Department (PWD), which comes under the Government of Delhi.

When the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) came to power, a lot of us thought that change was really here. That this sort of shoddy and ad-hoc work would finally reduce, if not, end. I can't speak for others, but I am surely disappointed. This is a subtle type of VIP culture. Do ordinary citizens not deserve plants? Do they not deserve clean pavements? Sadly, this is the same culture that other political parties perpetuate.

I wonder, when we will get independence from this. Certainly not until the Aam Aadmi remains content with this model.

17 July 2016

Cleanliness is next to Godliness

I have heard this phrase multiple times, yet I was surprised how little I had imbibed it. I thought I was a clean person, but something happened a few weeks ago and that made me realised how I had Stockholm-ed myself into being okay with dirt and filth.

Around the first week of June, the storm water drains outside our house were cleaned and the silt from the drains was removed. These drains are under the pavements. The persons removing the silt were different from the persons who would take away the silt. So after the desilting, the pavement outside our house looked something like this:

I had no qualms with this mount of dirt outside the house. I came in and out of the house with the same ease as before. One fine evening, the guard complained about the silt. He mentioned that if the same was in his area, he would immediately get it cleaned. He said that the persons incharge did not have ‘respect’ for us.

That conversation made me uncomfortable. I wondered why I hadn’t complained till now. The silt is outside my house, the silt is not supposed to be there, someone is obviously not doing his job and I am also happily sitting and doing nothing. I don’t care about anyone respecting me, but I felt terrible about not doing anything. 

Like all battles these days, I first attacked social media. At the moment, I was under the impression that the North Delhi Municipal Corporation was responsible. Accordingly, I wrote emails to the Local Municipal Councillor and the Mayor of the Corporation. I tweeted to the Chief Minister, the Swachh Bharat Twitter Account and posted on the North Delhi Municipal Corporation Facebook Page. I even posted on the Ex-Mayor’s Facebook page.

The Swachh Bharat team asked me to connect with the Municipal Corporation and Councillor, who I had already approached. Other than this reply,  nothing happened. 

I submitted an online grievance complaint on the Municipal Corporation’s website. On the website I noticed that there was a Mayor’s Helpline Number (9643096430). I called the number and registered my complaint. During the call, the operator asked a strange question - what was the width of the pavement? Was the pavement more than 4 feet? Instinctively, I thought the pavement was less than 4 feet [a measuring tape later proved me wrong, the pavement was actually far more than 4 feet]. The operator recorded my complaint and also gave me an additional number for recording sanitation complaints (1800 11 8700). From the call, I also gathered that the PWD might also be responsible. 

Accordingly, I called the PWD helpline (1800 11 0093) and registered a complaint with them. By this time, I was desperate to get the work done and was fed up of the organisational intricacies. The same is visible in my tweet to the Minister in charge of the PWD.

Still nothing happened.

I decided to explore the PWD website. My mission was to figure out the body/person incharge of the road outside my house. I needed to know who was responsible, so that I could pester them until they cleaned up. The PWD website had a “Roads with PWD” functionality which I thought was completely useless for the common man as it required me to fill up details such as zone, circle, division, sub division, category of road etc.

Finally, I found a page that had a “List of Desilting of Drain” and it contained reports of the progress of desilting in the various areas/roads of Delhi. The report was fairly detailed and had the names and phone numbers of the persons (junior engineers, assistant engineers and executive engineers) incharge. I now knew who to run after.

I sent he above images via WhatsApp to the junior engineer (JE) and later called him as well. He said that he will contact the contractor and get it sorted out. The silt still rotted outside my house and nothing was done. I let it go, because it was a Saturday. 

On Monday morning, the silt still lay outside my house. I sent new images of the silt to the JE. I wanted to be mean and say “Good Morning”, but I guess that wouldn't have helped anyone and it would only be a reflection of the filth inside me. The JE immediately called me and gave me the contractors number. The JE assured me that the work would be done that day. I spoke to the contractor as well and he said that he was on his way.

Finally, after a week of traversing through the web of various organisations and persons, the silt was removed. The JE called to follow up as well.

From the whole episode, I realised that:
  • I can’t afford to get used to bad things. I should be at unease when I see poverty, when I encounter corruption, when I see garbage on the streets, when I lie etc.
  • I can’t change the whole world. But whatever little I can do, I must do. So if something is happening which shouldn’t ideally happen, then I must do what I can do, to stop it.
  • Finding the right person is likely to get the job done faster, rather than shouting from the rooftops and tweeting/emailing everyone. I should do my research before calling out to others.
All in all, I am happy the pavement is clean (though still broken).

Here is Sheru chilling on the clean pavement: