For many years, my father was an embarrassment to me, and I am sure to my sister and mother as well. Wherever we would go, he would end up complaining against something or the other. I would have loved him to be cool, sab kuch chalta hai types.
I wanted to be cool myself. Always wanted to be in nice company, with a song in my heart and without a care in the world. There was a contradiction though, I did care for the world and I am trying to do what I want to do.
To cut a long story short, till Bakul happened, I was not the complaining types like my father. But with Bakul and our constant reiteration of Gandhi’s adage, almost as a mission statement for us, “Be the Change you want in the world”, it has become very difficult for me to remain the cool, uncomplaining types. There is the pressure, I will not deny it, to act my talk, to be the change I want.
I realized it that doing something by ourselves seems easier and we often prefer it, like going and teaching a child. But how many of us try to change the system or improve it?
I remember the train journey from Bhubaneswar to Delhi in Jan 2006, when I was discussing with Praveen my decision to return to Orissa in a year and to start the movement for volunteerism and set up the library. In that journey, we suspected the pantry of overcharging, and asked for the menu card. After much trouble, it was brought to us finally. Seeing it, we realized that we were being overcharged. In fact, half the coach realized it and was up in anger.
The pantry folks did not take our threat of complaining seriously at first. After all, no one complains and obviously they had been doing it for a long time with impunity. But Praveen assured them that we were VELLA, and had lots of time. We had no problems in taking the trouble to complain. (I am not sure, however, if I would have done it if Praveen had not been with me that day. I might have left it there) Some days after our complaint, I got a letter from the Rail Ministry acknowledging our complaint and with the assurance that action was being taken. I never saw the same catering group serving food on that train again.
The problem is not in our stars,we are the problem because we do nothing to make it a better world for all of us.
As I was coming to Delhi this time, I again perceived problems in the food quantity. But then I thought who will take the trouble of complaining. Leave it. Chalta hai. Unfortunately, that was my attitude though I was uncomfortable with it as well (I talk differently these days in high-sounding Gandhian words after all). Before I reached Delhi, however, I got a call from a friend, who had always told me that it was my duty to ensure the system functioned better.
When he heard, I was on the train, he asked about things, and when he heard about my reservations about the food, immediately asked me to complain. I was ashamed and asked for the complaint book. The Coach attendant did not get it despite repeated requests. I decided to be vella again. After the train stopped, I went to the Station Master’s office and complained.
The Older Sujit and most people here would simply not have taken the trouble. A few days later, I perceived a problem in the announcements in the Metro in Delhi. It was late after 11PM, and all my old instincts told me to forget it and rush for dinner. I resisted my instincts and complained. Seeing me, one of the sweepers at the Metro Station asked, what was my problem, did I not have money for the travel?
This is our problem. We see wrongs happening, and we do nothing about them. We expect them to get better, thanks to others. Yesterday, I was talking to an old friend of mine, who along with her father was mugged close to her house in Bhubaneswar. Apparently, such incidents are very regular in that area. The police when contacted said that none had reported these incidents and so they had not been able to act.
Another friend, a journalist told me how the autos in Bhubaneswar were able to charge at will without following any fixed rates because as the authorities explained, NO ONE COMPLAINS. Apparently, they get the license only on the condition that they follow norms. But they don’t and no one complains.
Well, I shuddered after my second complaint in close succession because I seemed to be turning into a figure like my father increasingly and I fear that my friends will leave my company soon. (“He is such a bore, he will always hold you up to complain”).
But I am happy that I am doing what I can do bring about the change I want though I must admit, it is easier to quit and be cool (the chalta hai types).
Sujit Mahapatra is a Volunteer of Bakul Foundation. Apart from being an active volunteer he also teaches Children’s Literature in Ravenshaw University.