02 October 2014

The Ugly Indian: Spotfixing at Richmond road

After the underground festival which was the 'cream of the cake' as I mentioned at the end of the blog post, today was finally a chance to put in the hard-work that cleaned up three spots at Richmond road, aka General KS Thimayya road. Although this one was to be a bit different, as the email from The Ugly Indian said:
"This spotfix will be a tribute to Gandhiji and will be different from any regular spotfix that you might have attended."
There was no painting done today, but if you're a first-timer to the next spotfix, it'll be helpful if you bring a few things along with you, else it'll be difficult. Here's the list, and the reason for it:

  • Hand gloves. You'll be handling some very dirty, stinky garbage, and you'd actually want gloves that cover your arm beyond your wrist. The thicker the gloves, the better. You might have to handle shards of glass and stones which can tear the glove.
  • A mask. Most of the places cleaned up are also used as impromptu urinals, so you'd have to bear quite a stink.
  • Large garbage bags (the large black plastic ones you get to buy) or empty cement sacks (perhaps jute sacks would also be ok for dry garbage). A lot of the garbage has to be shifted to a spot where the BBMP truck can collect it. These bags help.
  • A tool that will help you clear thick, wet, layered garbage. A broom won't really work in this case. You'd need something like a spade or a mumtee (wonder who created the funny name 'mumtee'. I'm inventing a new name for it right now. Let's call it the "Angled spade". Costs approx Rs.120). For clearing garbage in tiny places, it'd help if you have a smaller tool too.
  • Clothes you don't mind dirtying. If the spotfixing involves painting, then clothes that you don't mind having paint falling on.
  • Shoes or boots. Don't wear sandals, as garbage is sometimes full of things that may cut your skin if you leave it exposed.
  • Cap or a hat. Cleaning up takes time, and the mid-day sun can be scorching.
  • Drinking water. Not just for drinking, but to be able to pour on a wound or a cut on your skin if it happens.
  • A small first-aid kit. You probably won't need this if you use the tools to clear the garbage instead of directly picking up garbage with your gloved hands.

Purchasing most of the above things won't cost you more than Rs.200. Considering that we spend more than that for an overpriced meal at fast-food joints and restaurants, this little bit of money is completely worth it for the cause it's being used for.

A wishlist for the organizers to consider
  • Notifications: Put in info about the event, in the page that's shown after the Google Form is filled up. This way you won't have to send a separate email, and even those who register late will get the right info.
  • Complete info: What will be accomplished on that day: Inform volunteers (in the notification itself or during the activity) of the tasks that will be accomplished, why it's being done and how it is to be done. Most volunteers end up just cleaning garbage and not knowing the bigger picture of how the BBMP was contacted, what precautions are to be taken etc. People will take initiative and keep volunteering, when they know what is going on and how and why it's done.
  • Followup: Send a followup email to participants, with info about the activity done, what remains to be accomplished and the approximate date when they can come to complete the activity.
  • Have a constant email id: Emails for various TUI activities sent from different email id's can get confusing.

The garbage clearing

I began at a corner used not only for dumping garbage, but also used as a urinal. A spot with an eternal stench and thick black layers of wet garbage with insects crawling and flying around. Definitely not for the faint-hearted, but we didn't really care. The mood among the masked crowd was positive and everyone wanted to get the work done, no matter what kind of garbage it was. People gave suggestions to each other to make the process more efficient, shared tools, took turns when someone got tired, cracked jokes about finding a gold-mine or dinosaur bones under the garbage and basically automatically organized the whole process together while motivating each other at the same time. The only instructions given to the crowd were, to keep the garbage in separate piles of debris (the stone and mud) and piles of 'other waste', and to form a chain of people who would pass on garbage to one-another. That's it. Everyone improvised, came up with their own ideas, and those who didn't bring tools, found thin slabs of stone which they used to dig up garbage and shift it to the pile. Nobody wanted to be standing around doing nothing.

The second spot, was near a transformer and an old water-fountain. The grass was cleared, stones lined up and the mud was firmed up by volunteers who stomped on it.

The third spot was at another transformer and the stretch of footpath that preceded it. The garbage at the transformer area is a lot messier than it looks in the pic. Layers and layers of garbage! Lift a stone slab and there's more garbage and insects under it! We were advised to stay away from the wires and to not go too close to the transformers. The muddy area at the edges of the footpaths after being cleared, would eventually be tarred and the footpath edges would be painted, on another day.

You'd be surprised at the number of garbage items that clog up the entry points of drains. No wonder our streets get flooded. I cleared up one such point too.

With the garbage piles ready, in came the cavalry with the garbage truck. We formed two chains of volunteers who passed the garbage on to each other using pans and eventually into the truck.

People nearby who were happy to watch volunteers do this work, sponsored soft-drinks for everyone.

And we took a much-needed rest, while the BBMP truck went about collecting the remaining piles of garbage and debris. We learnt that the debris went to a separate dumping spot where builders would make use of it. The remaining garbage would be sent off to the landfills.

An interesting detour

I took a walk around the place, searching for a tap to wash my hands, and a roadside vendor was more than happy to offer me a bucket of water and soap. She had been watching us, and was soon joined by an old lady who also worked at the roadside, who gratefully started telling me of how even her own children won't bother cleaning up a place. She was happy to see us - people who didn't actually have to do this work - braving the stench and cleaning up the place, expecting nothing in return.

After washing my hands, while walking back to the first corner where I started the cleaning (the place was now deserted, as the garbage was cleared and all volunteers had moved to the second spot), I noticed two men walking up to the corner, scanning the place like how the Predator scans for a dirt-covered Arnold.
These men, were the regulars who used to take a leak at the spot.
Both of them scanned the location, probably thinking "Damn it! Somebody cleaned up this whole place. Now where on earth do we go?!!!". And instead of going to the usual spot, they walked up to the place where the large pipes were piled up (see the initial pics) and took a leak there.

A spontaneous cleanup

While we were waiting, and the truck was collecting debris from spot 3, a few guys noticed that the road in front of us was covered in mud. This would basically be the mud that settles down after a heavy downpour. They picked up their brooms and started sweeping the area! Just like that. Nobody told them to do it.

A van driver passing by sarcastically asked them what they were doing. Initially, most of us also felt it was weird. But some other volunteers saw that the brooms weren't able to take out the mud, and picked up the angled spades to clear it. Even I realized that mud accumulated on the road is something I've personally had a dislike toward. I picked up an angled spade too, and joined these guys. Soon plenty more volunteers joined in, automatically formed the chain which passed on mud and we were totally surprised at the huge pile it became! The road was much cleaner than before, and we could even see the white paint that was earlier covered with mud.

We even tried to clear up what we thought was an entry point for water on the road to flow into the drain, but were sorely disappointed to see that it was filled with mud! :-)

In the end, the mud was transferred onto the truck, many volunteers climbed onto it for a group photo, there were cheers at the good work done and tools were distributed among the volunteers (many volunteers who left early, had left behind their tools and brooms) before we headed back home tired, but very happy!

p.s: By the way, whether you're new or not to such an initiative, try your best to stay till the end of the activity. Most people tend to leave early. Staying back not only ensures that you don't miss out on everything that happens (the spontaneous cleanup for example), it also ensures that you're there to help out till the end. A lot of helping hands are required for such an activity, and when some volunteers get tired, it helps if there are others to take on the work. 
Many girls were enthusiastic and mentioned that in-spite of all the work, they didn't feel weary. An experienced lady overheard them and smilingly told them that although they don't feel any muscle pain now, it'd start at night or the next day morning. Anyone who remembers their first few days at the gym will know what this means :-) But this is a good pain. It makes you stronger!

No comments: