We’ve all heard of the quote attributed to Mahatma Gandhi: Be the change you wish to see. Easy to preach but tough to practise. More so if you’re the only one who seems bothered about bringing about a change in attitudes that stem from a deep-rooted apathy. But Nappinnai Kalaivanan is not one to give up so easily.
She wrote to me yesterday about something that’s very significant. Years ago, Nappinnai saw a post on Facebook that gave a comparative picture of Singapore before and now. It described how there, even a kid doesn’t throw any waste on the road because there’s a high fine for littering. A few days later, she chanced on a video that showed how one person eating chocolate threw the wrapper on the ground and slowly, many others did the same, and what was once a clean spot, became the place for everyone to throw garbage.
Both these posts stuck in Nappinnai’s mind and she decided she would first stop littering. Everyone thought she was being weird and would sarcastically say, “Just because you are not throwing waste on the road, do you think others will stop doing it?” But she stuck to her guns because she firmly believes that one cannot preach something without practicing it oneself. So, she wouldn’t throw waste outside, and would chastise those who littered, despite their negative responses. Some people would even intentionally throw something on the road, right in front of Nappinnai, just to spite her. She refused to get provoked and instead, would calmly pick up the same and put it in the dust bin. Over the years, seeing her dedication to this principle of cleanliness and not littering, her neighbours and friends too began following her actions.
From being a UKG kid who took her teacher’s advice and carried the pencil shavings from the sharpener home to put into the dustbin, to bringing about a change in the attitude and behavior of people around her, Nappinnai Kalaivanan is a changemaker in her own right.
For someone with such a strong civic sense, rising to any occasion comes naturally. Which is why Nappinnai was one of the thousands of students who volunteered in one or the other way during the 2015 Chennai floods.
I’m proud to say that this 23-year old girl is my husband’s niece.
There’s so much we can learn from her story. The UKG teacher who inculcated the spirit of not littering, sowed a seed in little Nappinnai. But it was her ability to believe in her principles and act by them without giving in to the ridicule of people around her, that is her real strength.
Youngsters like this give us hope that better days are in store for our country.
More power to Nappinnai and youth like her!