Why do we look for heroes in all the wrong places? We're stuck in our movie seats and in our history books, while today's heroes go unnoticed.
I pondered this question and its implications while sitting inside a Toyota Qualis in Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh. On the drive out of the city, back to Delhi, I noticed that the wide road was spotlessly clean and perfectly paved. No cavernous potholes, no rubbish clogging the drainage system, no plastic wrappers blowing by like tumbleweeds.
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"We've collected one crore rupees (Rs 10 million) of 'lost' money since July. All of it has been invested back into the city's infrastructure and sanitation," Ajai Shankar Pandey had told me.
Pandey, the Municipal Commissioner of Ghaziabad, is one of those heroes who go unnoticed. But he prefers it that way, and insists on not being videotaped or recorded.
"I don't want the media to focus on me," he says. "I want them to write about the message. That's the power of the media, the ability to communicate ideas on a mass scale."
Every morning, Pandey arrives to office ten minutes early and brooms the floor, dusts the furniture and takes out the garbage. He asks each of Ghaziabad's citizens to make a similar effort.
"When I arrived, I told the people of Ghaziabad, 'There are sixty lakhs (6 million) of us. Imagine how much we could accomplish if we each did just ten minutes of work a day!'"
Pandey drew from Gandhian ideals when creating this initiative. The larger than life painting of Mahatma Gandhi in his office speaks of this devotion.
"We must be like the Mahatma in action. He not only cleaned his own house and spun his own clothes, he also went to the slum areas and did sanitation work... People say that Gandhi is a great man, but then they act in a completely different manner. I don't want to change the institutions of this country; I want to change people's hearts."
Image: Ajai Shankar Pandey in his office in Ghaziabad
Also read: Daughters of Bihar
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