If you regularly commute through the Mumbai locals, you might have come across an elderly man with message boards hanging from his neck on either side.
Either standing quietly or slowly walking on the station platform, he isn’t promoting any political agenda, nor is he selling home-made products or ayurvedic medicines. A closer look will enable you to read the text written on the boards in Hindi and English. Some people take note of it, some take out time to read it and some simply choose to ignore.
His name is Ramesh Dongare, and he proudly believes he is doing his bit for the society and environment.
At the age of 68, he could have enjoyed the carefree life of retirement and done things that his recently-concluded busy life did not allow. All of us have our retirement plans, like travelling the world, catching up on reading, perhaps even learning a new skill or simply enjoying time with family. Ramesh had a plethora of things to choose from too. Instead, he decided to dedicate his time towards the betterment of the society.
“I practice what I preach,” he says, confidently.
Dongare has proudly lived his life adhering to certain rules that are beneficial for the environment, the society and humanity, in general. Right from planting and tending to trees in his colony to serving for five years at the Tata Cancer Hospital, Ramesh has always put society and environment above everything else.
Coming back to the board, it has three points which are grave challenges that Indians are facing today:
1. How chewing tobacco and smoking cause oral cancer
2. Organ donation
3. Save the Environment
The message is written in simple language which is easily understandable for everyone. He chose the Railway Station as the location to stand with the board and explains, “It was a simple choice; I can reach maximum people in minimum time.”
Ramesh worked with the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research as a Dental technician and got inspired by a research conducted by his colleague Mr F S Mehta. The team studied oral cancer over a span of 20 years across India, and the results were shocking.
It concluded that in every 100 patients who suffered from oral cancer, 80 were addicted to Tobacco or its other variants.
Ramesh decided to do his bit to make maximum people aware of how fatal tobacco could be. “Not only is the person consuming tobacco in danger but there is always this passive harm to the environment when they spit it out,” states Ramesh.
When mentioned that banning of tobacco crop seems like a distant dream since it’s a commercially yielding crop, Ramesh promptly asks, “OK. Then how about finding substitutes? Which don’t cause cancer?”
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Ramesh’s late wife battled cancer for several years, and hence he has personally witnessed the painful process. He started this initiative on Jan 26th, 2011 and has been continuing since. “It is a very satisfying feeling when people not only inquire about why I do this every day but also when they come and admit to having given up this filthy habit.”
His second pointer talks about organ donation. India is the second most populous nation in the world but ranks low on organ donation. Over 2.5 lakh people die only due to lack of donor organs.
About 85,000 Indians suffer from liver failure annually, but only about 3% can avail of a liver transplant.
“The statistics are saddening. Sri Lanka has a population of 2.09 crore and exports eyes to more than 50 nations. And India with a higher population, needs to import them,” says Ramesh.
Initially, people’s mindsets were the only problem. But now, it has come to light that although people have become more open to this practice, our country is still unable to support those who want to donate organs infrastructurally. He notes, “Only a serious demand by people will help put the wheels in motion as far as the infrastructure improvement is concerned.”
Lastly, it is the protection of the environment that he strongly feels about. Inspired by reading articles published by Marathi Vidnyan Parishad, he began spreading important information about noise pollution.
“While the celebration of festivals of any religion is great, why accompany it with blasting speakers and loud DJs? No God ever has asked for it and none ever will. More often than not, it is just a show of wealth which is harming our planet. Be it a marriage procession or India winning a match or the local mayor winning the elections, why is every celebration incomplete without these firecrackers? If this is how educated people choose to behave, things look very difficult in the future,” shares says an earnest Ramesh.
He notes that there are many like him who have completed their professional responsibilities and are healthy and eager to serve the society without being under the banner of any NGO or political party. He says, “Give us devices which can measure sound levels, and we will stand and note it for the Government. People need to know what demons we are facing and only quantifying the devil will show how strong it is.”
India is a young country with 65% of its population under the age of 35 years. By 2020, India could be the youngest country in the world.
While Ramesh went on his with his routine of helping the society, it left a thought behind. Is the youth in this young nation doing enough? Does it only have to be World Environment Day when the corporates hold the march to save trees with their logos on the banners which tick marks their CSR activity for the year while they waste hundreds of bundles of paper annually? Do students only have to join Teach for India and similar organisations during their summer vacations to add another point to their CV?
Perhaps what we need right now is to imbibe the seeds of correct attitude right from the beginning of our education cycle; attitude towards addictive habits like tobacco, attitude towards being protective of the environment and society in general.
In the end, it is all up to how determined an individual is. Ramesh’s initiative gives us the perfect recipe for a good and selfless deed. All the ingredients we need are – a little bit of our time, sheer determination, no money, no expectations of recognition and lots and lots of hope.
(Written by Rucha Ogale and Edited by Shruti Singhal)
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