By Savitri Narayanan
At the end of the fifth period as the lunch bell chimed, the school bags were opened, the lunch boxes were pulled out and the students were outdoors. Within moments the classrooms became deserted and the school grounds came alive. Under the various trees in the school campus everyone had their own group of friends and chosen location to sit together and open their lunchboxes.
“Did you really understand what Mehta Sir said yesterday?” asked Manjusha as they headed for their spot in the shade of the tamarind tree.
Manjusha and Kunal were the school captains. Sainaba was the captain of the Blue House and lived two houses away from Manjusha’s. The other house captains were Aditya of Green House, Tushar of Red House and Alex of Yellow House. Mehta Sir, their class teacher, had given them an assignment. They had assembled to chalk out a plan.
The day before, after taking morning attendance, he had said, “Coming Saturday we’ll have a special assembly on ‘World Clean-up Day’; captains, take a day or two to do your research and make a plan!”
It was rather vague so they’d planned to discuss it over lunch.
“So confusing!” said Tushar, the captain of Red House, “I thought 30th January was Martyrs’ Day and also Cleanliness Day!”
“I thought that’s the day Gandhiji was shot dead!” said the Blue House Captain, Sainaba.
“That’s true, that’s why we have two minutes’ silence at 11 a.m., affirmed Alex, the Yellow House captain. “In respect to all those martyrs like Gandhiji who died for our country’s freedom!”
“But the same day is ‘Cleanliness Day’ too!” said Aditya, “Martyrs’ Day or Cleanliness Day? Confusing!”
Standing in the shade of the tamarind tree, Hamid Sir, who was on lunch duty, was listening to their conversation.
“So, what’s the contradiction, Aditya?” he joined in their conversation. “Gandhiji was a martyr who believed in cleanliness – of surroundings, nature, clothes, habits and one’s mind too!”
“That we understand, sir!” said Manjusha, “But what Mehta Sir said was ‘World Clean-up Day’, coming Saturday! This is the month of September, not January!”
“I can understand your confusion, children!” said Hamid Sir, his tone getting kinder. “The world is changing so fast, so much development is happening and so much waste being generated, including the digital waste, so we’ve to think of many more ways of cleaning up; this is one such attempt!”
The captains looked lost, exchanged glances and their eyes wandered back to Hamid Sir.
“Nothing new or nothing different, children,” he smiled. “It’s all about cleanliness; we’re trying different ways to raise awareness among the public!”
“I’ve an idea!” Sainaba said, excitement brimming over her voice. “My Abbajaan often says, ‘practice what you preach’; why can’t we all go out to some place and clean it up? Let the public watch and learn from us!”
“Suggest it to your class teacher who will guide you,” said Hamid Sir, suppressed excitement in his voice, too. “I’ll go along with you!”
The bell chimed and the children rushed towards their classrooms but the captains headed for the staffroom looking for Mehta Sir.
Before they knew it, it was Saturday. After the morning assembly, the students along with the teachers headed for the neighbourhood park. Since the day the HM announced the event in the morning assembly, excitement was building up. Excitement and joy rose at the thought of walking up to the park armed with dustbins, brooms, dustpans, garbage bags and other cleanliness objects! Imagine being there actually cleaning the park! How exciting!
As they got busy with their tasks, many neighbours stepped out of their homes and stood around watching curiously.
“My India, clean India!” Hamid Sir raised his right fist and called out. The children too called out in unison, “My India, clean India!” The crowd cheered with them.
(The author is a retired educationist at present in Goa. A mother and a grandmother, loves reading, writing and travelling.)