This is a story about a squeaky gate.
Every day I walk back and forth to my office at least four times. I go in to work in the morning, I go home for lunch, I go back to the office in the afternoon and I go home in the evening. Sometimes I forget something and I have to do an extra round.
Every single time, I walk through this cow gate. Cow gates are ubiquitous in India and I detest them all because they keep people out too, not just cows. I couldn’t take Moy Moy down so many roads in our neighbourhood because her stroller wouldn’t fit through the gates. People in wheelchairs, people on bicycles, elderly people using a cane, young parents with prams . . . these gates are terrible.
But this gate I hated with a special passion. Not only did this gate keep Moy Moy and many other people out and not only did it hit the back of my ankles every time I went through – it was also a squeaky gate. And when I say squeaky, I mean it whined and screamed and ground its gears with every turn. Four times a day, minimum.
It drove me crazy and I could see it drove everyone else crazy too. I heard one man going through it grumble to his wife “Why can’t they oil this thing?” Three children going through held their hands over their ears even before it started. A woman visibly braced herself for the screeching before bravely stepping into the round-about.
Like all of them, I endured this for months. Then one day it suddenly occurred to me: I COULD OIL IT MYSELF.
I mean: Why wait for anyone else? Why not just do it?
This very morning I brought a tiny little bottle of cooking oil with me on my way to work. I carefully poured it all around the central pole on which the entire contraption spins and just like that, the squeaky gate went silent. The turn action became smooth and fast and the gate spun round like a well-tuned machine.
Walking through the gate was now a pleasure. I went through it, then went back and did it again just for the fun of it. I heard someone say to her friend – “Look! They fixed it!” This evening, I happened to be behind that same couple – the one where the man had grumbled about why “they” hadn’t oiled it. He went through first, as usual, but this time he stopped in astonishment and said to his wife: “Kamaal hai! Kisee ne ise theek kar diya” (Amazing! Someone fixed it!)
The world is full of things waiting to be put to rights and we just keep walking around complaining and expecting someone else to do it. Yet all it takes is the will to “be the change,” participation, and that one little bottle of oil.