I’m amused at the juxtaposition of the world that is India. I’ll be even more specific: Rishikesh, 11/1/12. My son and I love to ponder the funny and little things we see that strike us ironic, strange or simply different. Today, that was the non-specific clean-up day around town. I noticed around 8:30 a.m., standing quietly on the 2nd floor balcony that lots of people who I thought were pilgrims were coming to town. There seemed to be droves of sari-clad women descending on the town, bracing against the morning winds, with more purposeful expressions than usual. When I went out again, I noticed a local female sweeping more thoroughly than normal, creating piles of debris on the dirt road. I even said to my son, that the dirt was getting a face-lift today. Then about an hour later, I noticed 5 women who appeared not to be local, were sweeping the same area with more fervor, working together against the wind to gather the area’s litter. I pointed out to my son that the folks entering town that day were almost exclusively villagers, with their unmistakable bright and tribal prints, jewelry and bare feet.
When I exited to the rear, with a fourth floor aerial view (we’re on a hill), I saw groups of people, now including men in tan jogging suits, who were obviously organized in the task of cleaning the town. And it wasn’t just sweeping, using homemade brooms of straight twigs fastened together with string or tape or cloth, but pulling garbage off the hillsides, where it accumulates or is intentionally dumped. Not only with thoroughness but with excitement were vendors and businesses putting out their excess trash while plants were being pruned and dead leaves were being hauled away. I asked the guesthouse manager what was the occasion, to which he said, “no reason. What is today?” “Thursday.” I asked was that special and again, he said it was just a day. Clean-up day, I guess.
This was happening all over the town, evidenced by the brightly colored mounds of bent over women, dust flying around them like clouds. The men in the track suits seemed to be the leaders and heavy lifters, organized in small numbers compared to the female workers.
Around noon, they were fed, in a corner next to the Laxmin Jhula suspension bridge. Even from my vantage point I could see chapattis being passed through the crowds and some kind of food being added to the open flat-bread-cum-plate by the handful. Water was then passed around in metal jugs, shared by upturning the head with open mouth, to catch the stream of tap water. This all seemed a great show of team work and community.
I was proud of them and appreciated their hard work. The following day the town was still clean in places barely noticeable. More than anything, my favorite little thing was the sight of barefoot village women wearing sequined embellished saris, on their way to clean up day.