[Experiences] Zen and the Art of Waste Management

Last afternoon, when I was going to pick Haiku from school, Adyar Signal was doing her thing, stopping men in their tracks. An expensive black SUV was in line ahead, waiting for her to change her mind. Just then, one of its rear power windows slid down stylishly and then, an empty plastic cup descended on the road. Sirens started going off in my head. I didn’t know how long I had at the signal. But decided to brave it and bear a few honks if I had to. Pushed the gear to neutral, pulled up the handbrake, clicked my seatbelt open, snatched my car keys out, slammed the door and strode ahead. Picking up the abandoned cup, I walked up to that expensive SUV and peeped into its posh interiors. A little boy in a uniform sat there, looking so like my own son. I held the cup in one hand and waved a ‘No-no!’ with my other hand. Then, dashed back to my car. I know not if this crazy aunty on the road made any difference to him. But, it was worth a try!
As my car moved into first gear, my mind went reverse, mining for moments like this one. Popped a short scene from years ago. My big Haiku was then, just in pre-school! One day, when walking towards his school, saw a paper cup fly out of an open car window. I bent down, picked it up, looked at the driver in the car and asked with a smile, ‘Why don’t you drop it in the dustbin?’ He got the cup from my hands and smiling sheepishly said ‘Sorry, madam. I will!’
Another morning, when the sun had just got up and was scuffling around in search of the newspaper, I was taking a walk and I saw two ladies seated on the pavement outside an apartment having coffee. One of them done slurping the last drop nonchalantly threw her cup on the ground, totally engrossed in the animated talk of her companion. I walked up to her and asked her, ‘Why don’t you drop it in the dustbin?’ She replied that the corporation cleaning lady would clean it up.  ‘Still…?’ I asked with a smile. She smiled too and I left.
Heartened by these harmless little incidents, I was getting rather complacent about my approach. One evening, when I was taking Haiku to his Karate class, I saw a middle-aged man walk out of a shop. Having finished his packet of chips, he threw the plastic cover right where he was standing. Walking up to him and pointing to a dustbin close by, I asked him that question you must know by heart by now – ‘Why don’t you drop it into the dustbin?’ That was it! As though I had said a dirty thing, that man started yelling. The voice level set to an embarrassing red, he first admonished me asking what right I had to ask that question to him and then advised me to go and clean my home. In an interesting turn, he then shouted, ‘Did you pay your dowry?’ Even now, no matter how much I flex my logical muscles, for the life of me, I can’t understand what that’s got to do with anything! Anyway, he started exhibiting his superior skills in hurling English words for verbally abusing a woman. When Haiku looked up and asked me, ’Why is he shouting at you, Amma?’, I decided it was time to move away before my son got into the ‘What is he shouting…?’ part!
Why all this fuss over a piece of paper or a plastic cover on the road, you may ask. Isn’t there garbage flying everywhere around? Even around that very dustbin that I ask these people to drop the trash. You would make an excellent point even if you went a step further and said, ’What difference does it make even if you are going to hurl it into a dustbin? It’s going to a dump yard and be on the ground elsewhere!’
‘Still…’, a voice inside whispers in response, ‘isn’t not littering the very least you can do for mother earth?’ First, we’ll hope for the hand that takes the trash to the place it belongs, then the mind to think about recycling and then eventually, the heart to care for all of earth as each one’s own home, as it truly is.

But as long as such screaming strangers continue to live in our home, my motto is only going to be: ‘You drop, I pick up, No talk’!

10 thoughts on “[Experiences] Zen and the Art of Waste Management

  1. I too had a similar experience when I asked a lady to drop her coffee cup in dustbin. Her response was, “Why else are we paying monthly maintenance fee, have a cleaner?” Other instance, I was asked,”to how many will you ask this? 1, 10, 100,1000? Don't you have any other job?” Either such people should realize on their own and change or at least, get sense when someone else requests and make an attempt to change. They do neither. We are left with no option but follow non-violence path as you said at last “No words; only action”. On the brighter side, read this article, these guys have come up with an interesting reward for people who dispose garbage in bins diligently!! http://www.thebetterindia.com/33430/wifi-trash-bin-by-raj-desai-and-pratik-agarwal/

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  2. Hema

    Hi ka, I have been reading all your blog for quite some time and I like the way you write and words you use. I am not an voracious reader nor an excellent writer but when I read your blog it is so soothing and my mind voice says I must write like this one day to just flush out all my stress, sorrows & all bad feeling I have (also some happy post)…The best part of reading your blog is, I can relate me in some places (especially your childhood and USA Days) and I often google the words you use and find meaning for it. Can you please tell me how do you develop this skill of using unique words??
    And back to the “Zen and the Art of Waste Management”, I felt guilty that when I was in India I have spoiled mother earth too but after coming to Australia I realised my mistakes and I always use only dustbins. I am thinking when I fly down to India for holiday I must volunteer to clean up some places for sure!!
    I don’t know whether you will read this comment or not but I admire your language command. Keep writing!

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  3. Everyone must understand the value of earth, if not, no one's gonna learn! Let the earth play a role in everyone's life so that they will keep her clean and beautiful. Good writing!

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  4. Hema, lovely to hear from you. I'm so glad to know that you could connect to my words and that inspires you to want to write. To answer your question, I can only mirror your last comment to me: 'Keep writing!' Do that and you'll find your unique voice.
    Good that you have candidly accepted your past mistakes. So many people find it hard to do that. Heartening to see your thoughts about bettering India even while you are abroad.
    My heartfelt thanks for your admiration. All the very best to you.

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  5. Some people just don't change. They don't. DOT. Everyday while traveling through our roads these became rather common which we are supposed to ignore just like how politicians ignore us. They just don't understand it's their home (earth) is being abused. They just don't feel it. Glad I feel really awesome after reading this post. I'm not just the crazy one who's bp shoots up and eyes goes red when someone throw trash on road or spits.I'll try to tell them they can drop in the bin as politely as you do. Thank you!

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  6. Nandhini, Just reading your previous blogs today. I have the exact feeling when a person throws out the paper cups. You know there were days I have seen people spitting up mostly men, the auto drivers while driving or while waiting in signals and littering in common places, even educated guys some times do it, at those moments I can't stop giving an anger look but days were they even don't notice me, just spit and keep walking is what they do. as you said, no talk, just do it ourselves and I I have been participating in the coastal clean up, that day after cleaning the beach I get a heart felt satisfaction nothing is so great feeling. This kind of blog sharing helps us move forward knowing there are people who cares mother earth.

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