Take out the trash
Why doesn't the sight of garbage strewn around the city incense us? Why do we live with it?
TOKEN OF COLLECTIVE APATHY: Overflowing garbage is a familiar sight. PHOTO: AKHILESH KUMAR
I WATCH sun-kissed coconut fronds soon after my train leaves Chiplun. A small river its banks lined with lush green coconut palms, tiny houses and hard-at-work people leaves me enchanted. The goldenness of the setting sun, the tranquillity of the river, the meditative evening life seems to be full and I shouldn't be asking for more. Yet I'm unable to immerse myself in the beauty of the evening.
A young boy without a shirt, showing his emaciated body, propels himself across the compartment floor. He has just cleaned my compartment strewn before him is assorted trash. I pull out five rupees for the boy. He moves on. My surroundings are clean. Perhaps I can go back to the evening, the sun, the water. Perhaps I can forget the sadness of Chiplun. But can I?
The train had stopped briefly at Chiplun. The station was charming. Through my window, I saw another train with its passengers. Like a picture drawn by a school child, I saw a row of windows with a face in each, and a hand stretched out. Almost every passenger promptly dumped a cup or plate right beside the tracks!
The tracks were strewn with trash gross, disgusting and overwhelming. The beauty of the station was lost in this vast collection of plastic and paper. Most people were oblivious to my quandary. But could they be blamed? Our sleeper compartments don't provide even a single dustbin.
Trash is a way of life for us. Be it a railway platform, a city footpath or a village dirt road, trash is impossible to escape. Even in relatively clean places, one will always find a token of our collective sadness a cup or bottle. It is impossible to run on the beach without jumping over junk, impossible to walk without eyeing and smelling tons of overflowing garbage bins. Empty house plots are converted into dumping grounds. Potato chip packets, plastic water bottles and gutka sachets are thrown right where their contents are eaten. All strewn everywhere, anywhere, wherever one looks or goes.
When this sadness overwhelms me, I sometimes go on a trash collection drive. I pick up little bits and pieces of trash. I clean small parts of the beach.
That's when the arguments arise. "Why have you thrown this here when there's a dustbin right behind you?" I ask repeatedly. The answers are almost always the same: "Don't worry, the cleaner will pick it up." Or even worse, "What does it matter?" Sometimes even, "You're a fool". Or just silence. A shrug of a shoulder, shrugging me off.
I know I'm a fool to have asked. It never gets me anywhere. Still I ask. Because I don't know how so much horrible garbage does not incense us. Why doesn't it drive us all insane? Why doesn't it make it impossible for us to live? Why do we live with it? Yet we live on. All of us, including me, think about it for a moment or two and move on with our lives.
There is hope
My experience has taught me, though, that there's hope. Behind our house, there was a trash collection point. It had no garbage bins and the trash was never removed. It was a collection point, nevertheless, between the back walls of two houses. The entire neighbourhood dumped its trash there. Only we knew how badly it reeked and how disgusting it looked.
I will never forget pinching my nose as a kid and running swiftly through that gali. Not only was there trash behind our house, there was also a small, unused room between two houses, which was used as a urinal. It was not a public toilet, just an abandoned room that had been converted into one. And a few steps away, there were similar trash collection points with their goodies.
Time took me away from home my house was pining for me. It was lovely as usual, but I was waiting to step out. A trip to the stationery store behind provided the perfect excuse. I was waiting to pinch my nose and run for life.
But lo and behold, the room used as a urinal had been sealed off. The owners of the plot had cleaned it up and included it in their courtyard. Not only this, the trash collection point behind was spick and span. The corporation truck could not drive up to there, so they had moved the trash elsewhere. And a corporation employee went door to door to collect garbage.
The owners of a new building nearby had made another trash collection point down the street into a mini-garden. All in all, my neighbourhood was suddenly clean.
Such hope reminds me of a fantastic development the Sulabh Shauchalayas. Sulabh International has set up more than 3,000 toilet complexes and about 8,00,000 shauchalayas in private houses. These toilets have helped in reducing the demeaning practices of defecating outdoors and manual scavenging. Efforts like Sulabhs must be lauded for the tremendous change they are causing in our environs.
Mahatma Gandhi said, "So long as you do not take the broom and the bucket in your hands, you cannot make your towns and cities clean."
Almost 60 years after independence, we're nowhere near his vision of a clean India. How much longer will it take us?
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