The rockstar who sweeped the streets.

October 2007.

I grew up with the usual lessons that most parents give their kids in the hope of making them rock stars at work -

Do ur work properly and the attention will follow.
There r 2 kinds of people, those who quietly do the job and those who look for attention. Try to be in the first category. There is less competition there.
Do the job with the right motive etc, etc.

These are the few statements that i can remember along with the occassional "thats what Krishna said to Arjuna in the Gita - karma without expectation right!" stuff which incidentally had little or no effect on me. Now before u get me wrong, what i mean is that it was perfectly okay if i din get any attention for a job well done (as that hardly happened anyway !!!) its jus that i was too lazy to stick my neck out and go the extra mile to get that attention. As long as it was just about up to the task, i was happy. Not that anything has changed. But believe me that is what actually makes us rock stars at work.

The extra hour that we put when all have left just to ensure that the report stands out. The fifteen minutes early that we get up to ensure that we don eat agenda time in a meeting to set up the projector. The little faster that the Australians run to steal 3 where there wud have been only two otherwise (Ricky Ponting once said that they play to win while others play not to lose and that is why they rule Cricket). It’s always that extra hour, that little more, that last stretch, the last dive that often makes the difference.

But alas, I believed that attention for a job well done was the domain of the rich and the famous. After all I grew up hearing my peers say "dad arrives late but he gets promoted late too. doesn’t his boss notice !!!". I myself thought why somebody can’t write a book bout mom who juggled work and home seamlessly - doesn't anybody notice for God's sake!!! Until someone changed that belief.
If u come to the area where i live in Bhubaneswar (its the coolest place on earth lemme tell u) in the evening, u'll notice that the din of the day has left its mark. Dried leaves scattered around. Cow dung and the occasional excreta of local stray dogs (don ever mess with them - they are as good as lions with strangers and i love them for that). Cauliflower leaves (the local marketplace is nearby so it’s quite a busy area). Chips packets (empty though!!) scattered by children who play in the evening. It’s all there. But surprisingly, it’s all gone the next morning. The lanes are spotless clean. The cow dung is no more there and so is the other bric-brac. I was always intrigued by this. Who after all did the magic!! Out of sheer curiosity I decided to check out.

So one Saturday, after getting up, the first thing I did was go out to the lane. And there i got my answer. A frail old man around in his mid fifties was sweeping the lane with a broom with a long handle (the ones that enable you to stand and sweep). He was wearing a khaki trouser and shirt and a sleeveless jacket with 'BMC' written in bold meaning ‘Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation’. The interesting thing was that a short fat lady that was his wife (that’s what i supposed initially and later it turned true) was sweeping the nearby lane. Instinctively i gave him a call saying 'o mousa' which is generally how we address old people in this part of the world. He smiled as i approached him. As i struck a conversation with him, his wife approached us out of curiosity or maybe presuming something was wrong. It was fine i assured her. They told me that both worked for the BMC and had 3 daughters all of whom were married. The couple had fulfilled most of their responsibilities and were leading a quiet peaceful life and i did see a feeble glint of contentment in their eyes. The only complain was from the lady who was totally frustrated with the old mans drinking. She told me he had a bottle of 'jinjara' (a country liquor costing bout 12 rupees a bottle usually consumed by poor people). Probably that explained the man’s frail constitution compared to his fat wife i thought. The wife went back to her lane and I retreated too but not before noticing how methodical and meticulous the old man was bout his work. It was as if there was art in sweeping streets. Slowly the dirt vanished and so did he. I never met him later except for once or twice maybe where we just smiled at each other. But his work never escaped my eyes.

Then suddenly things started changing. The lanes were no longer as clean as they used to be. I ignored thinking age was finally catching up with the old man so he can be excused. But one day when i stamped on cow dung at night, I reckoned it was time the old man needed a spanking. So again on a Saturday I stepped out, but the old man wasn’t there. I did see his wife though in the adjoining lane. From her i came to know that the old man was no more. The drinking had finally got him. There was this young chap who had been assigned to my lane but evidently he wasn’t as good. The lady went back to her work and I strolled back pensively.

Martin Luther King had once said - "If it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, like Shakespeare wrote poetry, like Beethoven composed music; sweep streets so well that all the host of Heaven and Earth will have to pause and say, ‘Here lived a great sweeper, who did his job well'". Well for once, I decided to agree.