“Don’t throw it outside.
Because there is no outside.”
The statement above, taken from an award winning campaign against littering, bespeaks the fact that this shared planet is everybody’s home, and hence, everybody’s responsibility too. Cleanliness is next only to Godliness, is a proverb we’ve all heard in school, and in this essay, I shall try to understand and explain its multifarious facets.
The topic of cleanliness reminds me of an anecdote narrated by a senior during my Plant days, seven years ago. During his official tour to Australia, while sauntering on the spic and span sidewalks of Sydney, he happened to drop a wrapper on the pavement. Unmindful of his act, he carried on without qualms. An elderly woman, walking a few steps behind him, lifted the wrapper and put it in her bag. Stumped, our man stopped in his tracks, as the lady went past him with a nod and a smile. “I learnt the lesson for once and for all,” he confessed.
The eloquent silence of that woman was pregnant with lessons. First, what goes around, comes around. Second, as long as cleaning is accorded the status of a ‘menial job’, we won’t be able to rise and shine, literally. As per Forbes’ Report, India ranks 123 in the list of clean nations, while Japan, with a comparable population density, ranks among the top ten. The founder of our nation, Mahatma Gandhi, was himself an example of clean living.
The Holistic Perspective
Neatness is not cleanliness alone. Mumbai is a glaring example of a city with shiny skyscrapers but filthy backyards. If cleanliness is to be sustained, it must be holistic. The parameters of cleanliness should therefore include air, water, eco-biology, forests, mountains and all such dimensions of our life.
One of the explanations offered for poor cleanliness is the sheer quantum of waste. This shifts the focus from ‘how to clean’ to ‘how to minimize waste’. The second question is a much more fundamental and imperative one, as it is closely linked to the socio-cultural mores of a society.
Waste is created when we consume more than we need. The reason – greed. A witty one-liner says: It is better to live as long as you want than want as long as you live. There was a time when our society appreciated thrift and prudence, and propagated the values of preservation. But in today’s market driven economy, led by the mantra of consumption, we’re buying more and wasting more, leading to more and more depletion of resources. How many times do we stop to ask ourselves, when is this thirst for possession going to stop?
This takes us to an episode in Buddha’s life, when one of his disciples asks him for a new robe. On that, the saint enquires what his disciple did with the old robe. The student replies that the robe was first used as a bed spread, then a window curtain, then a kitchen cloth, then a floor-swab, before ending as a wick in Buddha’s lamp.
Small Leads To Big
So, how do we tackle the issue of waste. Whether it’s home or office, we need to watch out for the small things, for they eventually constitute the big ones.
Let’s dig inside. Do we throw the snack paper outside from the moving car, or do we take the pains to hold it till we find a dustbin? Do we wait for the office cleaner to wipe the dust off the separator panel, or do we actually use the dust cloth given to us as stationery? Do we allow the used paper to run amok in piles of garbage, or do we have the will and patience to recover and use it? Do we take due precaution while disposing electronic wastes, or do we wriggle out the easy way? Do we religiously carry paper/cloth bag to the market or do we accept polybags as an alternative? These are small actions, but when multiplied with a population of 1.25 billion Indians, can have staggering effects.
Moving over to the big things, we know as a fact that the only thing that can’t be recycled is wasted time. As a company, do we a have a policy that necessitates use of recycled paper? Do we follow the 5-S housekeeping system in true letter and spirit? How often do we conduct cleanliness and hygiene checks across our shopfloors and offices? In our daily life, what kind of examples do we put forth for our children to emulate? As iron and steel manufacturers, do we have a tolerance limit for the amount of scrap lying unused in the Plants? Are we working to adopt production techniques that are able to replace virgin raw-material with scrap-based input?
The Road Ahead
The very fact that the world’s largest democracy is gearing up to the cause of cleanliness gives us reason to cheer. Action is being taken on war footing to clean our rivers, such as Ganga and Yamuna, and the baton is now in our hands to further this mission. Monks in Tibet are known to have built temples out of plastic bottles. A teenage boy has thrown up a plan to clean half of Pacific Garbage Patch in ten years. Solutions are there, actions are needed.
Generally, people are believed to belong to three broad categories. The positivists, the neutralists, and the negativists. While the first and third kinds are present in minority, the bulk lies at the centre. If we glorify and exemplify the first, and penalize and disgrace the third, the bulk will sway accordingly. The Singapore government levies a fine of $1000 fine for littering. Where the carrot is not taken, the stick can be made use of.In any case, waste and dirt simply can’t be wished away. Concerted action with appropriate technology and single-minded commitment can ensure cleanliness at every level. If the Prime Minister of this country can place Toilets before Temples, we should have no shame in placing Cleanliness before Worship.