Modi Did What Moms Could Not: Get Kids to Swachh Up During Vacations


Modi Did What Moms Could Not: Get Kids to Swachh Up During Vacations

Illustration: Akshita Monga

“Idon’t want you to waste your summer vacations roaming around and doing nothing. Take some classes, help with housework and cleaning, learn some new skills.” – Every Indian mom before the dawn of that hallowed period in a child’s life, the summer vacation.

Summer vacations are that time of the year when teen laziness meets parental discipline head on in the Kurukshetra of wills, and things start to escalate for the worse. You want to wake up in the afternoon, have snacks at lunch time, lunch at dinner time, skip dinner, and binge-watch TV shows. But parents have a vastly different idea of how you should be spending your time.

They want you to prepare for entrance exams, learn ballroom dancing, make the nth attempt to discover your artistic side, get more fluent in German before rejoining school, ace power yoga, learn to cook paneer bhurji, help clean the house, basically turn into a superhuman who gets everything in order. I don’t have statistics to back my claim, but about 40 per cent of every mother’s energy during summer vacations is spent yelling at kids to turn off fans when they leave the room and keep bottles and mugs in the sink after using them.

When Modi ji first launched the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, I thought it was a masterstroke. After all, he had combined two things young India loves the most – clicking selfies and starting stupid chain mails where you tag 10 other people and tell them to do something. It was an engagement exercise brand managers would give their left arms for. Sachin Tendulkar, Anil Ambani, Shashi Tharoor, Baba Ramdev, Hrithik Roshan, everyone was at it.

While the real cleaning would eventually take place on November 8, 2016 when everyone ran out of cash for a while, many of us fell for the “My clean city, my dream city” fantasy, posing with brooms and spending weekends cleaning grounds in the neighbourhood. “Ghar pe toh you don’t do anything, when did you start cleaning grounds and public places,” mom would often taunt me. What could I tell her? She was as disconnected from the world of social media as Biplab Kumar Deb is from the world of science and reality. How could she relate to the gratification that comes in the form of Instagram likes and Facebook comments about what a model citizen you are?

But she had asked the right question and as it would turn out, after the first few months of clicking selfies, winning likes and hearts alike, normalcy returned. People once again got back to flinging chips packets in the open like javelin throwers at the Olympics and spitting out gutka from a moving train.

Once they were done spitting it all out, they would go back to talking about what a good initiative Swachh Bharat was. And mom went back to asking me to clear my cupboard.

Modi ji is like all our moms in terms of tenacity: He just doesn’t give up. I get more SMSes and notifications from the PMO these days than from forwards from my mom on WhatsApp. Not only does he and his party want to track our life, decide what we eat, what we watch, and what we can say, he is also committed to getting us to doing cleaning and sanitation work. It’s an important life skill, and more power to him for that pursuit.

Do you know of an internship where you get to go home with a ₹2 lakh cheque? Even our parents don’t make that kind of money!

Unlike our moms, however, Modi ji is a terrific salesman. He could sell a glass of water to a drowning man. After the initial blip with the broom and the selfie, I think he is back in the game, this time with the Swachh Bharat Summer Internship.

College and university students are eligible for the the Swachh Bharat Summer Internship. Calling it a summer internship is a genius idea because it almost sounds like something you should look forward to. What comes to mind when you think of summer internships? Creative writing? Journalism? Any start-up? Well, it certainly wasn’t cleaning, was it? Add to it, a swanky website, pleasing visuals, and a hashtag, and Modi ji can even make jhaadu-pocha seem like an amazing way to spend your vacation. Imagine how proud your parents would be, knowing you did something like that.

But make no mistake, children cannot be fooled by optics.

Even if it’s social work, we love to be appreciated. Remember HelpAge India in school? If you collected a certain amount of money for old folks, you’d get a medal and a certificate. I’d visit every house in my society, try my best, and then dad would contribute the differential amount so I could get a certificate. We love our medals, cups, shields, rewards and certificates, and our supermom Modi ji knows that. He is aware that unless you promise children a cycle for getting 90 per cent, they won’t do anything out of the goodness of their hearts. And that’s why the best interns of the programme will be rewarded with certificates, shields, and cups.

There are also curriculum credits up for grabs. We all know that one guy who only played volleyball in school so he’d get those additional 25 marks in his 10th board exams. Every mark counts, and Modi ji is now going all in with the power moves. Don’t do it for your love of the country, but at least do it for the academic credits. Hell, there’s even a monetary prize up to ₹2,00,000 for the creme de la crème, who have been identified as the best interns/teams at the college, university, state and national levels. Do you know of an internship where you get to go home with a ₹2 lakh cheque? Even our parents don’t make that kind of money!

Modi ji knows children are free in the summers, and he knows what makes them tick – money, awards, and recognition. Because in this country, we know virtue is not its own reward.

But if it can help our country be slightly cleaner, so be it. I’m rooting for you Modi ji.