Made In India

Picking Up Garbage And Good Manners

Picnics With My Indian Father

“Now pick up ten wrappers each. Let’s see which one of you kids can do it better.”

My father said, as he started to collect a few on his own.

That’s what picnics in my childhood looked like.

Every once in a while, dad used to take the three of us, me, mother and my younger sister, to a nearby public garden.

Newly built, it was hyped to be the best park in our city of Delhi. I had so much fun there. For all I knew as a kid, it could have easily been the best in the whole world.

I loved to watch the ducks as they swam in the pool. I even chased the ones that came outside to eat (whatever the visitors were offering them).

I want you to pause for a moment. Step back. And imagine all these things as a nine year old. Can you imagine?

Ducks swimming in a pool. As a kid, it was like stepping in a picture from my drawing class. (Not a picture I drew though, but one of the better kids, you know.)

Also there was a section for gaming and rides. You can rest assure, back then, this park was easily the coolest thing to happen to us.

Later my parents would find us a nice place to sit. Where they could have a little rest, and we could eat our chips, sip our cold drinks.

They say all good things come to an end. We too had to leave for home.

But not unless father made sure we didn’t leave any wrappers lying around. Honestly he was a bit obsessive about it. He still is. (Now I think about it, I guess it’s time for every Indian father to obsess about the right things.)

Then almost as a ritual, he would tell us to pick up ten items from the all the trash lying around and throw it in the dustbin. (If you’ve ever visited India you know there’s always some garbage lying around.)

Obviously it made him upset, people not caring about their surroundings. But it was his surroundings as well. So instead of yelling about the fact, he wanted to serve his little part and only hope for a better future.

I’m not sure about my sister, she was quite young, but boy, I used to get so excited doing it.

Maybe it was the thought of keeping my garden clean.

I didn’t care if it was someone else’s mess all along. It gave the garden a bad look and I wanted to get rid of it. The less the mess, the better.

Somewhere between those picnics, I learned the fact that if I didn’t do it, someone else will have to do it for me. And meanwhile things were going to look bad.

It’s something every sensible human will do.

I learned to appreciate, not only the beauty of that park, but everything else.

My father wasn’t doing it to teach us some good manners. He did it because he simply loved it.

It was his way to serve his surroundings. And I followed his example.

He continues to do it till this day. At times when we visit a temple. While others (including my extended family) are busy arguing about the upset state of cleanliness in the local temple, or how the beggars would huddle around and not leave a way for them to exit. Somewhere in the background, father is busy (he’s like a silent guardian), picking up some of the trash, and throwing it into the dustbin.

“Cleanliness in next to Godliness.”

A statement I was taught in school. And you can bet, I used it in every piece I had to write about cleanliness back then.

But this isn’t school anymore, and we haven’t learned our lessons right.

Cleanliness is quite right next to godliness. But please make sure that the idols of your gods are not resting on a pile of dirt.

It’s the sad reality. And it hasn’t changed for quite some time. So let’s just face it now.

The original title I thought for my story was , “How To Use A Dustbin — A Guide For Every Indian.”

When I chose the current title, I was thinking about my father.

I decided I will share my story. I will not yell. I will not cry. Focus on the story, and therefore not hurt the sentiments of others.

But when I talk about my countrymen, I believe there’s a bit of hypocrisy in all of us. We brag about our culture and our beliefs. We use them as arguments at places where they make no sense.

Yet we don’t believe in having a culture of cleaner surroundings.

Alright! I’ve discovered that I’m not as patient as my father.

You can’t always be the silent guardian. For if there’s a DC, there’s a Marvel. And if the world needs a Batman. Then somewhere exists an emotional guy called Hulk.

I’m not trying to imply that we are a family of superheroes.

There are better people out there, making a lot of real difference.

But seriously, if some of us could keep our litter to ourselves, nobody will have to suffer. If we don’t create mess in the first place, there will not be a need to handle it.


If you’re not from India, you might be wondering, it’s 2017, and why is this guy so obsessed about dustbins.

But then have you heard about our Prime Minister?

Narendra Modi.

Modi sworn in as the Prime Minister of India (the world’s largest democracy), on 26th May, 2014. And if I’m obsessed with dustbins. Our Prime Minister has been obsessing about toilets for almost as long as his term in office.

The Clean India Movement (or Swachh Bharat Abhiyan), is India’s largest ever cleanliness drive with over 3 million government employees and volunteers. And its main objective is to build toilets. Just have a look at the stats,

If you are wondering what is it about building toilets. I want you to watch this TED talk from Rose George, so that you can understand the problem of open defecation.

It’s going to make you uncomfortable. You will learn a great deal.

Rose George : Let’s talk crap. Seriously.

A few weeks ago, Ipsita Agarwal wrote a brilliant article titled — These Indian Scientists Sent a Rocket to Mars for Less Than It Cost to Make “The Martian

An observation that went viral on social media all across the world. So much that the fact was acknowledged by our PM himself. And why not, isn’t it something? Doesn’t it tell us a lot about our potential.

I’m not going to turn this into an article about the achievements of India.

We know we have them.

We understand that we can achieve a great deal more.

And while it’s great to shoot for the sky. Or even better to dive into the oceans. But to pause for a moment to reflect and deal with the ground reality, will surely help us.

After all, we are a work in progress.