Swacch Bharat Abhi Man, the Superhero We Deserve (But Don’t Need)


Swacch Bharat Abhi Man, the Superhero We Deserve (But Don’t Need)

Illustration: Juergen Dsouza

When Swami was just a little boy, he was taking an autorickshaw to annual day practice in Mumbai’s Vile Parle suburb. At a busy junction in Santacruz, while he was staring deeply into his Walkman, he was distracted by a guttural sound coming from the front seat. The man who was escorting him to play practice, had currently lost control of his internal organ functioning, and was  in the process of depositing what looked like chunks of his lung out onto the street. Young Swami, who was unaware of what shape paan takes when it is discharged from the mouth with great force, was disturbed.

But that was not the end of Swami’s story. Two minutes into the ride, he glanced down at his feet, and noticed that some of the expectorate had caught the only breeze Mumbai had seen in 12 years and landed on his toe. In between trying not to faint with disgust, he attempted to feebly bring this to the rickshawallah’s notice. But the driver had moved on to his next goal – trying to murder every person on a two-wheeler in the city, as his vehicle let out furious fumes. So the protest was lost.

However, something happened in that one moment. Little did Young Swami know that he had just been bestowed upon a power so mediocre, that every civic body would aspire to hire him for years to come.

You see, our young Bombay boy, much like our very own Bhavesh Joshi Superhero, Spider-Man, or any of the Avengers for that matter, was from that day on fated to be a vigilante. Swami became SWAM – Swacch Bharat Abhi Man. What set him apart from other superheroes is that his superpower wasn’t restricted to spinning a web or turning big, green, and angry. He also didn’t have a burning desire to make the world a better place. His superpower, keeping in theme with the millennial habit of calling people out on their flaws from their ivory towers, was the ability to swachh shame people.

This meant that when an incident of littering or public urination was taking place, his ears would perk up, and he would feel the strong need to post about this situation on Twitter (even as he disposed empty plastic packets from the window of his house.)  

“Do you know… that with great Pav Vada, comes great responsibility,” SWAM asked softly.

Had he been bitten by a cat, he might have had the mad urge to clean himself and things around him. But he wasn’t. He was spat on by a rickshawallah. And now he is both the hero we deserve – and are.

Swacch Bharat Abhi Man first realised the extent of his ability while ordering vada pav from a man standing on the street one day. The vada pav vendor decided to wrap SWAM’s order in plastic.

Immediately the situation escalated into a stand-off.

“Do you know… that with great Pav Vada, comes great responsibility,” SWAM asked softly.

Dead silence.

“We need a Swachh Bharat abhi, man,” he said, and slowly backed off. A man dropped his samosa mid-bite in the background.

Proud of his ability to pun, SWAM walked away from the vendor, swallowing his vada pav, he deposited the newspaper wrapper into a gutter on the road, and the now angry vada pav-wallah threw the plastic on a passing cyclist. “Definitely going to post about this,” SWAM thought. “The litterers must be taught a lesson.”

Two hours later, after amassing six heart emojis, a “you’re right about everything” comment, and a friend request from a man with Selena Gomez as his profile picture, SWAM stepped out to meet a friend for a drink. His friend, an aspiring actor and hence troubled individual, was smoking a cigarette. Together they got into the swankiest SUV Uber had to offer, put the air-conditioner on full blast, and went to a club three whole minutes away from their present location.

At the entrance of the hot new club, Spiton Thewalls, SWAM’s friend, forgot present company for a second, and flicked his cigarette on the ground, two feet away from the dustbin. He looked up to see that SWAM had made a big display of this callous gesture, and was currently standing over him, staring directly into his eyes.

“What is it SWAM? It was just a cigarette.”

“Just a cigarette?! Looks like someone needs to swachh the fuck up.”

“Relax man.”

“I will not relax man. In fact I’m tweeting about this right now.”

“But you don’t even have your phone in your hand…”

But it was too late for careless friend; the tweet had already been posted and re-tweeted by Sunil Gomez. The careless friend had been successfully shamed. Any hope he had of being the brand ambassador for Swachh Bharat Nagpur, a gig he had auditioned for the previous week, were lost. Behind them the dustbin that the cigarette missed was being emptied into a waterbody, where fish once lived.

As SWAM posted a rant about public transport being really unappealing to his aesthetic on the way home, he couldn’t help but feel proud about his behaviour from earlier in the day. He had successfully shamed two people into changing the country. He told his girlfriend the news with a gleam in his eye.

“I recently heard about this group that goes around cleaning the city in the morning. You can join it if you like,” she suggested.

SWAM laughed. “Do I look like Swachh Bharat Later Man? I’m Swachh Bharat Abhi Man.” He then wandered off into the shadows from where he had come. All superheroes have a job to do – and SWAM had a TEDx Oshiwara Talk to prepare. It was titled, “Clean India immediately, you assholes.”