“Did you know that, in India, way more people have access to cell phones than to toilets?”
I was in the elevator of my building, standing next to two high school students holding a stack of A5 sheets. The boy with the curly hair asked me this question just as the elevator started going down.
“I did know that, actually,” I replied, quite truthfully.
Curly looked at the other boy, who was wearing a Batman T-shirt. Batboy pointed to something on the top sheet of paper and nodded his head.
“Did you know,” Curly began again looking at me, “that 75% of surface water in India is heavily contaminated by human or animal waste?”
I didn’t know this one, so I shook my head.
Batboy and Curly smiled and handed me one of the sheets, which read:
“Cue cards!” I said aloud. I hadn’t meant to, really.
Curly took a sheet into his own hands and pointed at the text with his eyes.
I got the cue and and asked him if I could look into his card.
“What’s your source for all this?” I asked them.
Curly frowned and looked at Batboy. Batboy thought for a bit and said, with the full authority of his newly broken voice, “Online.”
“Of course,” I laughed. “Where online exactly?”
“Google,” he said again with the conviction of a man who knows he doesn’t have to say anything further.
“Ah. I should have guessed.”
The elevator reached the ground floor, and while stepping out, I handed Batboy the two papers again.
“No, no,” he said refusing to take it. “You have to keep it.”
“Because we are creating awareness.”
“I read them already. I am aware now.”
“No. Our teacher said you have to keep it and show it to your family and stick it to your fridge.”
“Okay. But I live alone here. I don’t have any family. And I definitely don’t have a fridge.”
Actually I wasn’t living alone and I did have a fridge, but I didn’t want to keep the papers.
“Just keep it.”
I sighed, shrugged and folded the paper into my hip pocket. When the elevator doors threatened to close again, I quickly stepped out.
Two hours later, when I got back to my building, I saw Batboy and Curly still standing near the elevator door.
“Have you guys been here all this while?”
“I see your pile has thinned down significantly. So much awareness, hunh?”
Batboy nodded again. With a frown.
“Are you doing this for a school project?”
Batboy just frowned this time.
“Hmm…I wonder how your teacher is going to grade you for that.”
Curly kept looking at Batboy, who simply chose to ignore me.
“Anyway. I hope you guys get a good grade. You are putting in a lot of effort.”
Curly brightened up to that. “We will get an A, for sure. We have distributed 43 notes till now.”
“Wow, that’s amazing,” I said trying to encourage him. I didn’t really want to tell him that hardly any adult in this building would have cared about their notes.
“Thank you,” said Curly with a smile. Batboy glared at him.
I didn’t know what was wrong there, but I shrugged again and stepped into the elevator. As the doors closed before me, I caught a thin whisper from Batboy, “Idiot, he thinks we are stupid.”
I have to be honest here. I was really impressed. The boy had somehow picked up my subliminal signals.
And yeah, I did think they were stupid. I mean, I appreciated that they were putting in the effort to do all this, but come to think of it, they weren’t really achieving anything. I had even forgotten the two facts I had read.
And I didn’t really know why the kids even bothered. There was no way their teacher was going to check whether they did the assignment or not. It was great that they had integrity and did it, but I would have liked to see some way of tracking this activity.
Over the next couple of hours, I came up with ten different ways I would have done this same exercise.
I even went a step further.
I went out of the house to see if the kids were still doing their awareness gig. As it happened, Batboy was still around.
With the friendliest of voices I could muster, I told him how I was thinking about their exercise and how I could help them get better, trackable observations.
He nodded and said nothing.
“At least try out the True or False game?” I egged on.
He frowned, nodded once, and averted his eyes.
“You know what?” I said losing my mask. “You are right. But honestly, tell me, do you really think tomorrow anyone is going remember what these cards say?”
He frowned and didn’t answer.
“Okay. I guess you know what you’re doing. I will be off now.”
On the way back, I wondered why some kids were just too stubborn and too stupid to be open to new ideas. Why couldn’t they just try out one of my methods?
A day later, pictures of these kids and their notes came up in the society’s WhatsApp group. Someone had written a small introduction saying that these kids had stood near the elevator for 8 hours to spread awareness. And suddenly, amongst all the awws and wows and smileys to that effect, people were also saying things like, “Forwarding.”
Why hadn’t I thought of this? It was pretty obvious a solution, wasn’t it? Maybe I am not as smart as I think I am.
The “maybe” became a certainty the next day, when I pulled my pant out of the washing machine. A million tiny pieces of paper were sticking to it. And I knew exactly what those pieces of paper had said when they were intact.
There was no way I was going to forget those facts again.
So much for being a smart-ass.