Debris litters the roadside along U.S. 20 in Miller, just west of County Line Road. | Jerry Davich~Sun-Times Media
Updated: May 22, 2014 6:08AM
I could be wrong but I’ll bet Dr. Mallik Chaganti of Rensselaer was sorting through random thoughts while driving home from O’Hare International Airport last Monday night.
This is what we often do while driving after another busy day.
Would his children be ready for bed when they arrived home that night? Were their school lunches made? Did he face a busy workload of patients the next day? Did he leave his house clean or messy? Did he record his favorite TV show before he left? Would his wife, Vijaya, arrive safely in India to visit her ailing father?
His wife, we later learned, did indeed arrive safely in India. But the good doctor, a well-liked and popular physician in Jasper County, never made it home.
While driving southbound on Interstate 65 near Roselawn, Chaganti’s SUV slammed into the back of a semitrailer that was stopped for a previous crash. He died at the scene, along with two of his three children, Anusha, 14, and Vivek, 9. The couple’s third child was transported to a hospital with non-life threatening injuries.
It must have all happened in a heartbeat, in a flash of fear, in a mere second of panic. With little or no warning.
One minute, he’s silently asking himself tedious questions, checklist duties and obligatory responsibilities, as we’ve all done while cruising to our next destination.
The next minute he’s gone. Poof. Dead. At age 45.
His detailed plans now mean nothing. His last thoughts now irrelevant. His expected workload now a moot point. Poof.
Go ahead, call it God’s will. Or fate. Or destiny. Pick your explanation, whichever one helps you sleep better at night. It’s human nature to do so because, deep down, we know it could have been us that night.
I call what happened a fatal crash, a tragic outcome, a random accident. But it was one that could teach us a lesson.
Perhaps the doctor’s “untimely” and “senseless” death (as the cliches go) could also serve as his final prescription to us.
Before his life also crashed into an unexpected fate, John Lennon once sung, “Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.”
So does death for many of us, including now Dr. Chaganti.
Spring cleaning time
It’s time for some spring cleaning, don’t you think?
I’m not talking about our homes after such a long, confining winter, but for our entire region. It’s a pigsty, from Hammond to DeMotte and Michigan City to Dyer.
Fast food bags. Used containers. Liquor bottles. Wrappers. Toweling. Pop cans. Discarded clothes. Old furniture. Cigarette butts. And thousands of empty plastic bottles, debris and containers.
There is so much of it that we tend to forget it’s there, everywhere, all around us as we drive our daily orbits to work, school, home and errands.
Think I’m exaggerating? Next time you leave your house, take a fresh peek at our roadsides, alleyways and empty fields. Yes, as I’ve noted before, some Northwest Indiana communities are littered with more trash than others. But we’re all guilty, even seemingly upscale neighborhoods, whose hoity-toity residents obviously think those “other people” are responsible for cleaning up their mess.
But why is so much litter strewn across what’s been labeled as the armpit of Indiana or the red-haired stepchild of the state? Is it laziness? Convenience? Ignorance? Apathy? Is it a cultural thing? A socio-economic issue? A generational phenomenon? Can we conveniently blame it on Old Man Winter?
Regardless, shame on us. All of us. Myself included. We’re so used to living like slovenly slobs that we rationalize our apathy about doing anything about it. For instance, when we stroll past litter, do we shake our head in disgust and pick it up or do we ignore it, telling ourselves it’s someone else’s problem? I’m guessing it’s the latter.
“We have been up and down both coasts of this country, and on many highways in between. Nowhere is the trashing of the roads as bad as here in Northwest Indiana,” said reader Maura P. of Porter County. “There are garbage containers and recycle places everywhere, but they seem to make no difference.”
“Most animals, except humans, do not foul their nests. Reeducation badly needs to take place,” she noted.
Here’s a simple lesson plan on Cleanup 101: Homeowners need to clean their property. Business owners need to spruce up their sites. Service groups can adopt a road or highway. Church groups can take aim at nearby parking lots or neighborhoods. Companies can add incentives for employees to maintain their workplace area.
Social media can be used to coordinate, mobilize and clean up targeted areas throughout our region.
“They won’t run out of places to clean,” Maura P. said. “You don’t have to look far for plenty of other examples.”
Last week, I noticed Dina Pasko of Crown Point picking up trash along Clay Street in her city.
“I have been waiting for it to get warm enough to get out and start cleaning up,” she told me. “It makes me sick to see so much garbage everywhere.”
Pasko said she has always picked up litter, which has become something of a hobby for her.
“I guess it’s part of who I am,” she explained after filling several plastic bags with other people’s discarded trash.
This is exactly the type of mindset more of us should adopt, but will we? It’s doubtful.
Our attitudes are too littered with lazy habits, recycled rationalizations and trashed standards of living. Maybe, just maybe, this warmer weather will light a fire under our butts.
Connect with Jerry via email, at firstname.lastname@example.org, voice mail, at 713-7237, or Facebook, Twitter, and his blog, at jerrydavich.wordpress.com.