Do you have 10 minutes for your city?

State, Market, Society

Ashwin Mahesh wakes up with hope for the city and society, goes to bed with a sigh, repeats cycle @ashwinmahesh

I often speak of development as something that can only be attained by a balance between the government, private enterprise and society, and often when I say this, I get one question: How much can ordinary people really do? Is it wishful to think that beyond the everyday lives they lead, citizens could actually make time to be part of something bigger?

I don’t think so. And this week is a good one to point out why. A few days ago, the 11th edition of the annual Namma Bengaluru awards was launched. They are a kind of “thank you” from the citizens to many people for their contributions to the city and its people. Over the years, the awards have been given to nearly 100 people -- regular citizens, bureaucrats, politicians, journalists, entrepreneurs, pourakarmikas, policemen and even young people. Concerned, problem-solving people who make the city better really do exist; in fact, there are a lot of them.

That makes the whole thing more personal. Each of us could ask ourselves, “If there are so many people doing wonderful things for the city, why not me, too?” In fact, that’s a big part of the reason why these awards are given -- to encourage others to strive to earn them, too.

The first counter to this suggestion is very predictable. “But I have a family. I have a job. I have responsibilities to my parents. Surely, I can’t leave all those and spend time trying to fix things that are so broken. Plus, it could all just be a waste, and nothing might ever come of it.”

Yes and no. Actually, almost everyone has a family, a job, etc. There’s no special set of citizens who aren’t normal, in the sense of these things. What distinguishes those who try to make things better is that they’ve figured out something that many others haven’t -- it only takes a few minutes each day.

Contrary to the common perception that superhuman efforts are needed to make things better, it only takes a little effort. It’s not the quantum of time that matters, but the persistence of one’s efforts. A little every day -- every single day -- is often enough. I decided many years ago that about 10-15 minutes a day is enough.

Do you have 10 minutes for your city? A very large number of people will say ‘yes’ if they’re asked this question. So, I wrote a little note about how just that little bit of time doing the right things, can make a world of difference. I called it the ‘Seven 4-Letter Words’ -- a set of things one can do at a steady rhythm that will be really impactful and also make one’s own life a lot richer in experience. I’ve taught this to lots of young people, and many have come back to say it works.

And that’s really what the heroes of the city, who are recognised by the Namma Bengaluru Awards and many other awards, really do. They may be sweepers and clerks, entrepreneurs and copywriters, students and freedom fighters, and many other things. But they have one thing in common -- they live with the rhythm of making things better.

During last year’s awards ceremony, the former Chief Justice of India M N Venkatachalaiah, who was the chief guest, said that it is by living ‘for the city’ that one becomes a Bengalurean, not merely by living ‘in the city’. That’s all it is. The seven 4-letter words are a way to live for the city. More importantly, they’re a way to make it a natural part of one’s life to live for the city.

But what are these words? And why 4-letter words, of all things, with the connotation that has! Simple: the words have four letters each, and that’s one reason. The second reason is that contrary to our intuition about 4-letter words, these are good words. And that mirrors how we think about solving public problems -- it seems to be for a small few, but in fact it could be for everyone.

Here are the words, then: read, play, cook, vote, give, make and meet. Can you do any one of those for a few minutes each day? It’s easy. I think of it as a kind of quirky civics class. Read 10 pages of a book a day. Play a team sport once a week. Give something to those in need. Meet strangers. Simple things, really.

Development is a rhythm. It is sustained by a balance between the state, market and society. And in every society, it is sustained by the everyday habits of people. Ten minutes a day. Seven 4-letter words. Try it.

Ashwin Mahesh wakes up with hope for the city and society, goes to bed with a sigh, repeats cycle  @ashwinmahesh

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