One day my manager announced that we start sunrise meetings in the organisation. He felt that the teams are not very creative, and it is necessary to improve the thinking mindset in the organisation. According to a popular view, creativity is a product of the brain’s right hemisphere, and this part of the brain is very active early in the morning. Everyone showed up in the first meeting out of fear of exclusion. All the participants were curious about the topic of conversation and the process. The expectations were not clear, and we were exhausted after two hours. A large kettle of coffee and a flask of tea with Marie and Parle G biscuits sitting on a table nearby did not help. The majority of the participants were practically sleeping despite fresh coffee and tea, and creative juices did not appear. It was a long day as we had to do our work for the day. While it was easy for me to attend such meetings early in the morning, the night ‘owls’ had a considerable challenge. I am not sure whether the meetings were productive. While a couple of sessions were a welcome change, the initiative ended in a damp squib.
I want to talk about two ‘sunrise meetings’ as I grew up. There was no water tap in our house, and we needed to collect water from a public tap nearby. We had to get up early and queue before the public faucet, waiting for water with our vessels. The municipality would release water for an hour. If we missed this hour, there was no drinking water in the house. Even the visiting relatives would provide their helping hands in the water collection. This golden hour was also an occasion to catch local gossip with neighbours and friends. These sunrise meetings offered a snapshot of what is happening around — arrivals and departures of relatives, marriages, potential brides and bridegrooms, politics, entertainment etc., though there was darkness around. I cannot visualise any topic that has no place in the list. The conversation went lively till the water started trickling from the tap. The hell would break loose as soon as the water gushed out of the faucet. All the polite etiquette vanished, and there was mayhem.
Non -availability of toilets was another reason why people in our town get up early. A large tract up public land with several bushes was the venue to relieve ourselves. Men and women had separate sections, and it is an unwritten code that we could not trespass. They would face severe consequences if they crossed the line. Everyone would carry one-litre tin or a pot of water. “Dalda” tins served the purpose of having convenient wire strings for easy carriage while the Coke and Pepsi bottles were yet to arrive on the scene. Everyone had their marked container to take, while some preferred pots of different sizes and shapes. Some extra unmarked containers were available in the house for any surprise relatives.
The darkness provided a general screen, and there was no social distancing as these bushes were full of deadly scorpions and other insects. A few weak hearts carried battery torches to find a suitable place. We could see some light flickers coming from the lighted cigarettes and beedis from the early birds in the darkness. Sunrise meetings would happen in low whispers as the sound passes through seamlessly in the quiet, dark mornings and the gentle cool breeze. The content of these meetings were the usual popular subjects. My friends and I would talk about our teachers, movies and sports. The topic of girlfriends was unanswered as these conversations would travel forward the local ‘secrets’ seamlessly without technology tools such as ‘Whatsup”.We were careful not to pass value judgements on the others as the conversation was instantaneously on ‘air’, and one would not know the neighbour in the darkness. It would look very ‘gross’ to the current generation, but there was no choice. The stray pigs acted as scavengers as the sun rose and did the honours. Owning a personal toilet and a phone was a luxury for several years. The family which possessed either one or both of them ‘arrived’ in the social pyramid.
(To accelerate the efforts to achieve universal sanitation coverage and focus on sanitation, the Prime Minister of India had launched the Swachh Bharat Mission on 2 October 2014. Under the mission, all villages, Gram Panchayats, Districts, States, and Union Territories in India declared themselves “open-defecation free” (ODF) by 2 October 2019, the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, by constructing over 100 million toilets in rural India.