Till I was eight, I never really saw garbage on the streets. There is a silent sense of pride the Arabs have in keeping their streets and city clean. While I was in Muscat, they even undertook many City Beautification Projects. So you see, it wasn’t just about cleanliness; it was about beauty as well. That part of the Middle East was like a mirage, like ones that appear in stories and movies.
When I moved to India, my first tryst with garbage and its abundance was at Malad Market, Mumbai. The entire area was filled with the stench of rotting produce. The landscape speckled with plastic bottles and bags, and all the garbage was piled away in a corner. It wasn’t in anyone’s direct view, so it was OK to let it be there without bothering with it for the next few months.
Later, as I moved around and travelled to various parts of the country, I found that this is true not only of a particular city. Every market, street corner or ally turns into a makeshift garbage dump. People in apartment buildings fling waste out of their windows.
It made me think. Is it possible? Could there be someone else to blame other than our ever-so-inefficient government? Are Indian people to blame for this phenomenon? Could it be something else; something other than the fact that for the past 20 odd years, our government has been concentrating on economic growth, forsaking developing better infrastructure?
I began observing people’s attitude to waste; it was not pleasant to discover that the problem is actually the people. We seem to believe that the country—its streets, its park and public areas—are our garbage dumps. Someone else will come along and clean up their mess.
It might come as a surprise that the “educated” English speaking middle class make up a sizeable number of the litterbugs. They think it is not their place to be concerned with garbage and its disposal. There is no sense of ownership and pride in the nation.
People say that they are patriotic; they will stand when the national anthem is being played and sung. The same “patriots” do not flinch or hesitate before defacing the very nation they so proudly belong too.
Telling them off doesn’t help either.
You get ridiculed and laughed at if you stop someone from throwing garbage around. “Will you pick up garbage from the whole state?” I was once asked.
What they fail to understand is that if each person took care of their own garbage, the streets would not be littered as they are now. We expect the corporation to clean up after us, so we leave a trail of garbage behind us wherever we go.
Why can’t we stop leaving the garbage trail to begin with? We keep waiting for the corporation to come up with a waste disposal plan or a recycling plant. Why can’t we work towards taking small steps ourselves? Compost your kitchen waste; stop buying or collecting plastics—these are some steps that can be followed instead of turning every street corner into a dumping ground.
Maybe then India has a chance to rise out from under this heap of trash.