Why Tanu wants you to carry an empty bag
School is about to begin again in Bihar, India, in 2,200 secondary government schools. It's 100 degrees. There's a single fan. But there are amazing stories of children going to school.
This is Tanu's story.
This is the story Tanu wanted us to tell you.
And so it begins.
Tanu always carried an empty bag. As she walked along the narrow road, she would look at the speck on the horizon and tell whoever was with her at the time “That broken home is mine.” Tanu was not afraid of broken things, she thought they were chances for people to do better. Her school was broken in many ways too, there were no toilets, no electricity, no place to play, a locked library… the list went on and on.
What baffled Tanu was that everyone’s solutions to broken things was to just throw those things away. The teachers told them to go for tuitions instead of fixing the school, her friends told her to throw plastic in the drain far away instead of finding an alternative, and her family told her not to be too adventurous and attract attention instead of telling everyone else that adventure is a necessity if we want to make things better. But nobody wanted to make things better, they just wanted the broken things to go away.
Tanu’s theory was that everyone cared too much about what everyone else would say or think, they didn’t want to take initiative because they didn’t want to be judged. What if they did something and everyone else thought it was a silly idea? What if it didn’t work? What if everyone called them a failure? And so, Tanu decided to start taking initiative herself.
The biggest problem Tanu saw was that there was plastic everywhere. A few months ago she had done the math - even if 50% of everyone in Patna carried their own bags to buy vegetables, it would mean 700,000 fewer bags being used on any one day. But when she spoke to people about her idea, everyone said no. “Walk around with an empty bag? Do you know how silly I will look?” “I pay the vegetable seller to give me what I need, why should I have to carry my own things?” Deciding to not give up, Tanu started going out with the biggest empty bag she could find. A bag so big that everyone would notice it. Everywhere she went, she carried The Big Empty Bag. And every time someone asked her why, she told them about her math. She told them if everyone used one less bag, maybe the grass would be green again.
Not everyone has started using The Big Empty Bag yet, but some have. And every time Tanu meets someone who asks her why she carries the bag, she tells them the same thing: “Be good. Don’t wait for everything to come in the market so that you can buy it. Create it on your own, and be resourceful. If there is a problem, find a way to fix it. The powerful idea of all of our brains is to serve, it doesn’t matter if the people you serve are from villages or cities or if they would be able to pay you for your service. It doesn’t matter if what you do is something huge or a tiny deed. If you are right, it doesn’t matter what the world thinks about you. Carry an empty bag.‘‘