The Ugly Indian who seemed like the leader asked who has a camera and he asked for one “before” and one “after” and exchanged thumbs-ups before leaving to guide another group to another “problem.” Minutes later, when I took an acrylic board and scraped the ground on the corner the wall of the Chinmaya Mission Hospital forms with a transformer fence, I recoiled from the stench of urine that had dried and gone dormant and now raised its repugnant hood—and struck with full force. Quite soon, along with the other Ugly Indians, I got used to the thing and went on, mindful of the stink but newly stoic. To capture the smell “before” and its disappearance “after”—that was the greater effect to record and publish, but how do you do it except with words?
The Ugly Indians will not have you sharing names of other Ugly Indians or their methods or phone numbers. You reach with all the members of the core group at a single email-ID, firstname.lastname@example.org. After they’ve verified that you fall in line with a near-sacred demand for anonymity, and once they’re sure that you fit the mooh bundh; kaam chaalu code, you’re in.
People do shake hands and exchange given names, but that’s all. No phone numbers are offered or asked for, and no one says what they are the big shot of, or which school or vocation they dropped-out from. The man on the left is tall and hefty, the young man on the right is lean and tall and bright in orange tees, the senior citizen behind me stays still and silent until time comes for painting, and the four teenage kids at the far end plan to paint the wall all the way to the long end. Young and old, man and woman, boy and girl, everyone works solemnly, speaking the minimum that the work on hand demands. In the end, the stench of urine, the hideous sight of garbage, and the sense of shame of living in India, all evaporate and in place of everything there comes pride from labor performed by hand, comes hope from those who proved along with you that more than a handful of Indians care and will act and, like a gust of welcome air that had gone missing, there comes renewed love for community.
The good feelings are not all unalloyed, of course. Where will the guys who’d been pissing on the wall take their leak tomorrow? Will they not dump garbage again every day from after now? The veteran Ugly Indians say yes even before you ask, that your labor will be littered upon sooner than in 24 hours, but they affirm also that a few of them will work on the problem right away, from tomorrow. With that concern out of the way, you think the very young men that you saw, not one of The Ugly Indians, but the hired hands with nice faces, who took the heaps of smelly mess that you brought to them and hauled them onto a high truck and compacted the stuff there. With nary a tool to lessen their fatigue. What of them?
O yes. But of course. You demand many solutions when a good thing gets going, and expect more from those who have shown that they can help, but the decent thing to do is to emulate The Ugly Indians, or to join them, and to begin the change, each in their street, even as you allow the new questions that arise, allow the answers that rise up also, and give limb to solutions that are mostly only spoken while seated in armchairs or during leisurely strolls.
Yes, indeed. Kaam chaalu; mooh bundh.
The folks at The Ugly Indian made a mention of this post on their Facebook page. My thanks to them!