If there’s one thing we all love to do, it’s complain about the state of the city around us. But come time to lift a hand, and there’s sheepish excuses about a lack of time, money and resources, and the buck soon passes to the government.
But there’s more than a few lessons we could all learn from Kiran A, a customer service attendant at a Shell petrol bunk on Bengaluru’s Bull Temple Road. Providing first aid to accident victims, installing warning signboards, repairing streetlights, filling potholes – Kiran has done it all to make his corner of the city that much safer and better for its citizens.
All this with a meagre salary of just over Rs 10,000 a month, while holding a full-time job at the petrol bunk and pursuing a BCom degree in APS Evening College.
What’s most impressive about Kiran, who was recently nominated for a Rising Star of the Year award at the Namma Bengaluru Foundation Awards for 2016, is that he has done all this purely on his own time, money and resources, never waiting for help from either government authorities or philanthropic organisations.
Each time he has run into a safety hazard on Bull Temple Road, Kiran, directly and without any fanfare, attacked it, resolving it with small but effective solutions.
For Kiran, it all began with a simple observation – that so many accidents took place just opposite the petrol bunk because vehicles drove onto the median that was not clearly visible at night. The one simple thing that could prevent these many accidents – a reflecting signboard – was not installed on the median.
“This spot used to see a lot of accidents. My colleagues and I would often go help people who got into an accident there, give them first aid, take their damaged vehicles to the nearby garage and even take people to nearby Shekhar hospital if they had suffered more serious injuries. We were doing all this, but I felt we should put a full stop to this wave of accidents,” explains Kiran.
On September 30, 2015, Kiran finally found a chance to do just this. With a Karnataka bandh in effect and the bunk closed for the day, Kiran recounts, he went to the Chamrajpet police station with Rs 200 in his pocket. He showed the personnel there photographs of the many accidents, and requested them to give him a reflective signboard. Spending the money in his pocket, he then bought a sack of cement and concrete from a nearby construction site, and installed the signboard himself.
“Since then that spot has become a zero-accident spot. Since then, no vehicles have climbed onto the median,” he declares proudly.
Kiran says that as the son of a farmer from Anegola village in Mandya district, he didn’t know anything about safety awareness until he came to work at the Shell petrol bunk where he currently works. At Shell, Kiran says, he received training not only on the strict safety regulations applicable at the bunk, but also on all-round safety awareness that employees are encouraged to pass on to customers.
Kiran took to these programmes enthusiastically, and was rewarded by Shell for his efforts, including being awarded a medal at a global Shell event in Paris. Kiran was also awarded a global safety award by the company for saving the lives of a father and son, when a car caught fire in the bunk. “All this motivated me to do more,” says Kiran.
After the reflective signboard, the next things that caught his attention were streetlights on the road. On many of these poles, the end caps had gone missing, leaving exposed turning wires that caused sparks every time it rained or water fell on them.
Again, fixing the electrical hazard was a simple matter that no one had cared to do so far. With a roll of insulation tape, Kiran taped up the wires, and where possible, refixed end caps on at least half a dozen streetlights on Bull Temple Road.
Since then Kiran has taken up a number of other tasks like clearing warning signboards that were covered up with illegally pasted ads, filling up potholes and so on. Kiran even took his safety cause to his home village, conducting safety campaigns with local shopkeepers against storing and selling expired foods, after his family suffered food poisoning.
For all of these actions, Kiran’s only reward has been the thanks of strangers. But that, says Kiran, is reward enough. Installing the reflective signboard, for instance, cost him a night’s dinner. “That so many people got saved because I skipped dinner one day gives me so much joy. Since I did that, so many people have come to thank me for doing something when the authorities didn’t. That appreciation has motivated me to do more.”
Besides, says Kiran, if we refuse to help strangers today when we have the chance, what right do we have to ask them for help should we need it tomorrow.
Kiran is also clear that he doesn’t want to call what he does social service or philanthropy. “I cannot do social service on a big scale, because I don’t have any background for such things. I saw something bad happening and did what I could to stop it. I won’t call it social service, because this is something that should come from every person. If this urge came up in every person, then there would be no need for anyone to do social service,” he says.
Such small but timely actions, says Kiran, could mean a lot more to society than large, showy gestures. He recounts how he found a crowd of people watching a film shooting near his quarters one day, just next to a major pipeline leak.
“All these people were falling all over each other to watch the shooting, but not one person could be bothered to make a single phone call to the BWSSB about the pipe. And then they will come on the streets shouting that we are not getting Cauvery water,” he says.
For his next step, Kiran has put together a safety team of six colleagues from the petrol bunk. Together, they plan to tackle safety hazards in all the neighbouring areas in a systematic manner.
“We will visit these areas and do a survey of all the safety problems there, and decide what we can solve. Then we will solve it ourselves. We plan to begin in the areas around Chamrajpet and eventually expand to cover all parts of Bengaluru south,” declares Kiran ambitiously.