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’!