Anshu was a journalist. He was always searching for stories. One story changed his life. He met Habib, a rickshawala, on whose hand rickshaw, these words were written, “Laawarish lash Uthanewala”. (This rickshaw is used to lift unclaimed dead bodies.)
Habib, who died last year, used to get Rs 2/- for every dead body + 2 metres of cloth from Delhi Police. He said, business is great in winters. Poor in summers.
Even more than Habib, his daughter Bano was actually the turning point in Anshu’s life. She told him, “When I shiver because of cold, in the night, I hug the dead body and sleep. The dead body does not trouble me. It does not turn or twist.” Anshu was completely shaken.
After this meeting with Bano he went home, discussed with his wife and decided to donate surplus clothes. That time, he used to have a scooter and they discarded 67 pieces of clothes. He was shocked! He thought they did not have enough in life. Remember, they were driving around on a scooter. They had so much surplus clothes !!!
Even today, more people die in winters for lack of clothes than due to any other reason including terrorism and road accidents. After all, 50% of India, is still so poor. Remember Champaran? The place where Mahatma Gandhi gave up western clothes and took up khadi forever. Deaths still happen there, because of lack of clothes.
When Anshu donated clothes he realised two important things.
1. The one who has chosen to wear your clothes gives meaning to your life.
2. Did he donate his clothes or did he discard them? After all, he had just given ‘used’ clothes.
When prodded about his experiences in working with poor people and calamity effected people, he quipped, “People do not want charity. They want dignity. In fact, begging is a urban India reality. In the villages there are NO beggars. They earn little, work truly hard and prefer to live a life of dignity.”
This is why Goonj, the NGO that he founded with his wife, does not give anything away for free. People who are affected, are asked to ‘work’. In exchange, they are then given ‘things’ (like food, clothes. even furniture and toys). Goonj just co-ordinated in cleaning up one lac square feet of Dal Lake in Sri Nagar. 500 people volunteered to work for three days. In return, they were provided a family pack consisting of family necessities. They do this kind of project everywhere. Anshu asks, “Why should money be the only currency? Materials too can be currency. We believe in barter.”
Anshu animatedly shared, “While natural disasters get our attention,there is an ongoing disaster that we have become blind to. This disaster is poverty. Half the country is always in draught. Like Bundelkhand. There people still eat grass rotis.” There was a collective gasp in the room when we heard this. “Don’t give them charity. Give them dignity. Are we thinking deeply about solutions or do we just massage our conscience?”
His words reminds me of Mother Teresa who used to say, “Please maintain your standards of living. But, reduce the wastage. For example, do fly to the destinations of your choice. But book tickets with a little plan and share the amount, otherwise wasted, with us. Share the wastage with us.”
Anshu believes we spend too much time, focus and energy on non-issues. Otherwise, all the issues of our country can be resolved.
Today Goonj has over 500 employees. It is a conduit for over 3000 tonnes of clothes. And Anshu Gupta has won the prestigious Magsaysay award too.
We wish and pray they touch and IMPACT millions of lives. We pledge, we will play our role. Thanks to dear Anshoo Gaur for connecting us with such an amazing person. Feeling super blessed and deeply touched. Every word that he shared with us is still resounding in our ears. How apt it is that their NGO is named “Goonj”.
With love, prayers and best wishes,
When we wake up in the morning, what if, we only had what we ‘thanked for’, yesterday.