June 12, 2011 clean

ABC of Mangalore

8.00 in the morning, May 03. Mangalore Central Market area suddenly comes alive with about hundred sevaks. Sevaks clad in white – dhoti, sarees or salwar kamees – irrespective of whether they are Westerners or Indians; men or women; young or old.
They are here on a campaign of ABC – to flush out of existence of the dirt, rubbish, human refuse, trash, waste, you name it — from the very map of India and usher in an era cleanliness, beauty and hygiene.

Armed with perhaps about fifty brooms and woven baskets and few spades and shovels – now the trickle of volunteers has swollen to an unexpected 400 – there is a great shortage of tools, but no dearth of enthusiasm. This was an emergency operation. Eagerly, these warriors of ABC, disperse in different directions, in a hurry to locate and identify and attack the mountains and oceans of filth.

India is waking up to the cleaning up act. We are witnessing the birth pangs of a new nation. We all can contribute. In her love, Amma’s children are uniting around her, transcending all barriers of religion and race, culture and country. Amma, shining in the midst of society as a living embodiment of Vedanta proves love crosses all barriers. Heralding the dawn of new light, for a new world. Light of Love; light of Service.

So what if their eyeballs are little reddish and eyelids bit heavy. They have forgotten the fact that most of them had not only not slept the whole of previous night, but were busy serving selflessly, all night during Amma’s Mangalore darshan program. Even the night prior to that, they must have hardly slept. Hectic work awaits many, on the preceding nights of darshan, setting up the whole show flawlessly for the 2- day darshan program*. For them, this is selfless service; this is spiritual practice.

Just the previous day, ie on the first, Amma had inaugurated ABC. {News}. It is next night at 10.30 that Amma probably might have felt that, in vain decades and millions of words have been spent in mere talk. So on this last darshan night, Amma wants the actions to speak – action speaks louder than words. Her children will convert the inauguration into action. Then and there!
Immediately an ABC group rushes out and zeroes down on the filthiest location in the heart of Mangalore, and report to Amma. Then the task is set to 8.00 am, right after the Darshan.

Though Amma uttered only a barely audible sentence or two, that created enough buzz within the darshan hall and by midnight many ashramites had come to know about the program and were excited to be a part of this great program. Some, after the darshan program, were afraid to sleep, fearing they might miss the bus if they overslept; others couldn’t anyhow sleep because they had to dismantle the whole auditorium before the caravan could move to the next destination, Kannur. After a hurried breakfast, many more people than expected, were scampering into the buses, to be early birds! So, to accommodate all, ultimately 6 huge ashram buses left for the “cleaning fields”, one after the other, after 7.30 am. So, 400 pairs of hands were to reach for the few dozens of tools! Their hands were to become tools.

The area of operation would be the 600 meters of road encircling the two rectangular building complexes of the Central Market.

Cleanliness has been the hostage, whether due to the beurocracy that doesn’t deliver or the public’s, ‘sab chalta hai’ attitude that doesn’t demand. Early morning or noon or evening, in Central Market area what confronts you is mounds and mountains of garbage. Waste, refuse, garbage strewn all around. It is just mind boggling. There is no space without garbage. And add to this the stink. Nobody seems to notice. It seems people have made a silent pact to live life this way.

Amma doesn’t blame anybody. Amma only asks that all of us take a vow to clean our surroundings. Amma believes that if the people, government and other organizations work together, this sacred endeavour will certainly bear fruit. More specifically, that a watch dog committee be formed, comprising members of Municipality, service organizations and local dignitaries.

The task is so huge, Amma’s children – the army split up spontaneously into many groups. In no time, the central market’s surrounding roads are entirely surrounded by these “white groups”.

In the melee, it was becoming very difficult for the outside media people, in that many devotees were not willing to stop work and go aside for any length of time, to give an interview. So many Westerners scavenging the Indian roads, must have been quite a sight. So they were sought out, perhaps to figure out the basis of their incredible love for Amma, that made them leave their home and hearth to follow Amma, their most beloved.

Dedication was lit large on their faces. It sounds like a cliché but the infectious enthusisam was to be seen to be believed. But most of the time the enthusiasm was loud – expressing itself in the form of boisterous bhajans, jokes and loud laughter. But a little before 12 O’clock, it was little eerie when suddenly our group went for a short while deaf, selectively. Strange.

Some of the powerful officials of the local government were cajoling, threatening the group clearing huge mound of garbage – about two men high, to stop. They were also threatening that the group, that by occupying the road, were blocking the traffic. It is at that instant that they went deaf – as if they would rather do what Amma says than listen to what others say. Though deaf, they nonchalantly continued the work, while singing a new bhajan with greater enthusiasm. Sure – these brahmachaaris and brahmachaarinis – they weren’t dumb! It was left to a local devotee of Amma to confront these tough officials and talk to them. Many of the surrounding shop keepers witnessing the issue and having seen the yeomen job the ashram was doing, rushed to take the officials to task.

Some brahmacharis, sighting a rotting vegetable dump occupying an area of about 5’by 15′ area on the road itself, went running, as if to meet a long lost friend. Though it was not in their target, being in Bibi Alabi Road, away from the Market road. Not only about a dozen brahmacharis made the area spic and span, they meticulously dumped every bit of it into the waiting garbage-truck. And then they bought DDT to sprinkle on the cleaned road floor (that was blocked to traffic till then). A spontaneous act; but icing on the cake, really.

The opposite side shopkeepers were moved by the sight of these highly educated looking brahmacharis coming to their shop fronts to clean their roads for them! They were complaining that the Govt was not providing any service for the taxes they paid. One of the group was heard replying that if the govt was not solving our problems, we don’t have to feel helpless; we could take the initiative into our hands and help ourselves. Instead of allowing the problem to fester, that is the only way to solve the problem.

Many were the inspired shop keepers started offering cold drinks and snacks to the volunteers drenched in sweat but heroically performing their seva. Some Mangalore devotees were also ready on hand to offer supplies of bananas, water etc with a smile of fulfilment on their faces.

But unique were some of the shopkeepers of the younger generation, who hugely influenced by what was happening right in front of their eyes, unasked jumped into the fray, and with vigour joined some of the toughest tasks, adding their own laughter and banters to the festive atmosphere. There is no shortcut – others feel inspired, not when then hear, but when they see you do it. So many were such inspiring instances of innate goodness and chivalry, amidst the depressing cynical attitude that has infected the very core of society. Minds were getting ventilated, hearts were opening up.

The scenes unfolding at the Central Market that day, stood like a testament to what one (Brother Dr. Wayne Teasdale, PhD, Catholic monk, a former trustee of Parliament of the World’s Religions, Chicago) said, before 18 years, “By her emphasis on selfless service and charity, Amma will, I believe, hugely influence the future world.”

By about quarter to twelve, it looked almost over. In the spirit of self-sacrifice and love, many of them had worked with bare hands – who in all probability never had engaged in such menial jobs ever before. Now they were winding up, with a sense of fulfilment.

It is then, that the still remaining group chanced to sight the mother of all garbage mounds, a veritable “mountain”. Lying, in a sense, inconspicuously in a corner of the inner road, but otherwise blocking all the noses and almost all traffic, was this mountain that had become a permanent fixture of that road. (Remember the same officials, threatening that Amma’s children were blocking the road for removing it!)

They rushed toward it as if that was the prized trophy they were looking for. Some of them, mainly men, scaled the mountain and started scooping with spades. Some of the brahmacharis got the garbage-truck to park nearby and heroically jumped into it, ready for action ; many women carried the rotting, putrified garbage in baskets to the trucks. There the baskets would be collected by men again and passed on to the brahmacharis standing in the truck, which again will pass through couple of hands ultimately to be dumped at the end of the truck. Amidst the utter chaos of about hundred people working frantically as one man, there was method behind the madness. It was one fine tuned song in synchronization; a wave like motion from the “mountain” to the truck and back to the “mountain”, involving all the hundred devotees of Amma. When men slipped on the slush, or when slush fell on their bodies, it was no commiseration but celebration that gave forth to cries of “Mata Rani ki Jai” Women who were in greater number than the men with their whites totally dripping with the garbage, and bodies drenched in sweat were so merged in the world of selfless action, it was a sight worth seeing. Of course, for seeing there were many spectators: perched on the balconies, standing in shop fronts and hordes of them encircling the theatre of action. They were all moved by the this surreal sight unfolding in front of their eyes. Rendered speechless by this movie in action of selfless service and love for humanity, being enacted by the children of Amma. These children of Amma are verily her wealth and her gift to the world.

These are the ABC children – Amma’s beloved children.

– Janardana Krishna


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* Amma reached Mangalore ashram during the evening twilight hours of April 30. Amma’s darshan program began early morning of May 01, continuing throughout the night of second to end at 03.53 am of May 03. The first of the buses from the Ashram started plying for ABC at about 07:30 am. That means, for more than 60 hours, many scarcely slept.