A curious spectacle greeted morning walkers on Thursday morning. Around 15 people had gathered together to clean up a public space. Their inspiration? An organisation called The Ugly Indian
What are those people up to? It is just six in the morning, and the sun has not fully woken up. But, around 15 youngsters, wearing gloves and masks, are up to something opposite Masonic Hospital. The small square is littered with trash, spilling out of the garbage bin. They brave the swarm of flies and ant hills and scoop out the rubbish.
A few passers-by are inspired enough to join them. “Give the broom to me,” says one of them to a volunteer and sweeps the area.
These are people who are inspired by The Ugly Indian (TUI), a Bangalore-based group that has captured the imagination of people in Chennai, Hyderabad, Goa and Pune. And now they have made an impact in Coimbatore. With the slogan "Kaam Chalu Mooh Bandh", they are on a mission to clean filthy bus stands, open dumps, paan-stained walls and dirty roadsides of their cities. But they do not take individual credit for their efforts. The group prefers to be anonymous.
The TUI drives are called spot-fixes. The group zeroes in on one area in the city. Then the predominantly online citizen initiative, posts the “before-and-after” pictures on their Facebook page, once they are done with the spot-fix.
These pictures and their positive spirit caught the imagination of the Coimbatoreans too. “The best part is the anonymity factor,” says one of them. “We do not have to put a face. The aim is to get people out of their comfort zones to clean their living space.”
The Coimbatore group consists of lawyers, entrepreneurs, students and activists. “I come across so many environmental pollution cases in the city, on a daily basis,” says an advocate. “Waste disposal has become a huge crisis. These collective initiatives motivate residents.”
“I never knew Race Course housed so much trash,” says another lady as she shovels up a heap of rotten fruits and kitchen wastes. “The main reason for stray dog menace is garbage,” says an animal welfare worker in the team. “Unless we manage our wastes, we cannot control the stray dog population in the city.”
A loud honk of the lorry marks the arrival of the corporation workers. Selvan and his helper Murugan park a trolley next to the bin for the volunteers to dump the rubbish. “There are around six to seven garbage bins here. But all of them over-flow by the end of the day. No matter how much we clean, we are always greeted by this familiar sight,” says Selvan.
Then, two TUI members wash a nearby wall with water, while two others bring in a bucket of white paint. Innovative graffiti design ideas are discussed. An entrepreneur recalls how a few residents in Bangalore painted the symbols of all religions on the wall so that people did not dirty the place out of respect.
The volunteers pick up the empty bottles and plastic bags. A few designers in the group form a separate heap out of stacks of discarded thermocol, tiles and marbles. “They will make great roadside art installations. We could even brighten up the walls with some colours,” suggests one of them.
After two hours, the small square is almost clean of all the junk. But, their work is not over. “We need to level the ground and finish the designs on the walls,” says a volunteer. The TUI volunteers plan to gather once again on the same spot to give the final touches. Photos are clicked and numbers are exchanged. “We know Race Course is a comparatively cleaner area compared to other parts,” says a volunteer. “We hope to move to other places, too. But with this, we want to sow the seeds of a movement. It is our city, after all. Who else will take the initiative?”