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COUPLE of decades back I had the privilege of meeting the great Mwalimu Julius Nyerere in Lusaka, something told me, he had greatness in his own right; as he gently tapped my cheek. Unfortunately fate never gave me the opportunity to tell but lightning struck me twice though.

Earlier this year I had the opportunity of meeting Dr Bindeshwar Pathak, the Founder of Sulabh International, and an Indian Sanitation NGO. Being the digital age, Google him, but this comes from me and feel free to quote me. "To be human isn't about being able to breathe or have a heart pump. It is how far you can go out of way to put dignity back into a person who long forgot what the word means".

That describes best in my opinion who this chap is. I say 'chap' because I was honoured to probe him and even more I learnt about his insight, vision and beliefs with 40 years of humanity behind him. When I did this probe, he told me, "Frankly I am quite amazed at the vision your letter so eloquently communicates.

I have tried my best to convey through my answers the various facets. "Myriad hues of my work, my mission and my thoughts about myself as well as the Sulabh Sanitation and Social Reform Movement," I'm sure you are anxious as to what I asked. Below are excerpts from the conversation I had with Dr Bindeshwar Pathak:-

Question: I know this is something you refuse to admit but please for argument's sake; in your opinion how and to what extent has your following of Mahatma Gandhi led to the success of the Foundation?

Answer: Mahatma Gandhi's philosophy of truth, non-violence, compassion towards the poor and downtrodden, honesty, integrity, ethics and morality, concern for the untouchables, keeping the environment clean, his dream to restore human rights and dignity to untouchables, and to bring them into the mainstream of society have influenced my life and have led to the success of the Foundation.

Mahatma Gandhi was a man of honesty, integrity, ethics and morality. I have also tried to follow these concepts of Mahatma Gandhi and even today the functioning of the Sulabh International Social Service Organisation is totally transparent, based on honesty and integrity. It is only because of these values that we have been able to get respect and excellent credentials throughout the country both from the people and the Government. Mahatma Gandhi always spoke the truth. Once I had spoken a lie to the General Secretary in the Bihar Gandhi Centenary Celebration Committee and I had to apologise to him.

Q. Briefly please explain what Gandhi's beliefs were, which you took up as the backbone of the foundation?

A. The Gandhian philosophy has a tremendous impact on the Sulabh Movement and we have tried to shape our organisation in such a way that it fulfils the aspirations and dreams of Mahatma Gandhi. He wanted the prestige of scavengers to be like that of the then Viceroy of India, the highest position in the country during the colonial days. In fact Gandhiji (anyone whose name ends with ji is a sign of respect) once said that if women can become princesses and queens then why shouldn't a woman scavenger become the President of India.

Aside the Sulabh activities what else do you copy from Mahatma Gandhi's lifestyle that you practice in your personal life?

Mahtma Gandhi always woke up to the first light of dawn, offer his morning prayers, did his yoga and go for his morning walk. I have also always maintained this regimen. My day also starts in a similar way. I do my yoga, go for walks and do my prayers. Mahatma Gandhi also ate frugally and led a spartan life. I too follow these principles.

Gandhi always helped the poor and needy. I also follow this religiously. I help people educate their children; assist in marrying off their daughters; help people access medical facilities and other philanthropic activities. I would also like to say that I diligently maintain the time and punctuality as Gandhiji used to.

Q. You fondly wear the Kurta (traditional dress), is it because it is comfortable or is there a statement you are making?

A. Before joining Bihar Gandhi Centenary Celebration Committee I used to wear trousers and shirts. In order to do the work I do in the society which was based on Gandhian philosophy it is essential to wear the Kurta, maybe with a dhoti or with pyjamas because this was the symbol of swadeshi as envisaged by Gandhi.

Q. If you had a second chance in life, after your efforts and success in bringing a difference in sanitation and brining back dignity to former human scavengers, what would you have embarked on that you feel it is something that seriously needs to be addressed today in India?

A. Along with sanitation, India is facing today the problem of an acute shortage of water in many parts of the country and another problem is the growing population of the country. It is in these two areas I would have channeled my energies as I have done in sanitation sector.

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