Mumbai, 1830hrs, CST station….
I was traveling at peak hour, hordes of people making their way to their respective platforms. It was terribly hot and humid and the fans in our coach were not working. I was lucky to get a window seat in the first class ladies compartment. Fourteen of us adjusted ourselves in the mini coach as the train started to move. Finally some fresh air….
Atleast 6 ladies were munching something …a common sight to see… I too was hungry, my stomach was growling. I pictured my mom’s home cooked meal hot and ready in the house for me, and suddenly I was smiling. The hunger subsided a bit. The lady sitting right opposite to me was enjoying her vada pav with chutney and green chillies.
She finished it under a minute and crumbled the newspaper and wiped her fingers in it one by one. I held my breath. Instantly I could make out, she was a litterer. My senses have become highly tuned to serial litters and I can sense one by just observing their body language. And sure enough, as we reached Reay Road Station, I leaned forward, and within a second, I saw her hand stretch to the window. Within a swift move, I caught the crumbled paper and left over food that left her hands, and kept in the waste pouch of my bag pack. She was surprised. She asked- why are you keeping it?
I replied- it’s better than it being thrown away.
She says- Oh ok, but why are you keeping, give it to me.
That was easy, I thought as she took the paper from me and kept it in her bag. But here is where she threw a googly after googly.
“Its organic, that’s why I threw it, I know that its is organic”
“eh…That is really not the point…”
“No it is.. I don’t throw plastic and all… I know… This will just become mush, it has food inside, it is all organic…”
Very politely I said- “Aunty, according to me, throwing even an apple is not acceptable, so…”
(Note: I was smiling all the time, as I did not want to intimidate her. She seemed like the loud screaming kind of aunty).
“see, I know newspaper is made of cellulose, it is all organic so please don’t tell me this, even I am part of this Swachh Bharat Abhiyan ok and..”
“oh …and you still do this”
“See I know this is organic ok…”
“Also, this would have not gone in the platform, it would have gone in the track ok”
[Wait a minute, did she think I had an objection JUST about the fact that she was littering on the platform?!!! ]
“How does that matter? Platform or tracks?”, I asked.
“no, but when rain comes, all this will go…it washes the tracks I know..”
“aunty but newspapers don’t decompose overnight…”
“see this is organic I know ok..”
I could have told her that newspapers can take up to 4 weeks to decompose…I could have told her newspapers sometimes also have lignin which breaks down slowly thus increasing the decomposition time for them… I could have told her that newspaper inks can be toxic in nature (if they are petroleum based) and that it was an environmental hazard…I could tell her littering (even newspapers with left-over food) is a threat to public health, a health hazard, since it attracts vermin and rats, not to forget provides a breeding place for pathogens… the kachra stuck in the tracks could lead to technical glitches…I could tell her that her littering is responsible for hazardous occupations like this!
It should have ideally sufficed if I told her littering is disgusting and it makes my city look bad. The worst part is Litter attracts Litter. When a person litters, you are indirectly sending out a message that it’s ok to do so and it’s acceptable to litter. That is example we set for the younger generation.
I was thinking all of this, but all I said was – OK
I put on my earphones because I realised you cannot convince a person who uses the words “I know” so frequently, in a span of a minute, and who is justifying littering.
I continued to smile and looked away, gazing out of the window. My smile widened and I couldn’t hide it because two stations later, SPAT! I saw her spit out the window. It was not to spite me surely; it was very instinctive, like a habit.
Wow! I thought to myself. Swachh Bharat Abhiyan indeed!
At Vadala station, she occupied the seat next to me so that she could get fresh air too. I kept quiet throughout and finally it was time for me to leave as my station had arrived. I could not help it. I turned to her and said with the utmost sincerity and politeness- Aunty, I have a sincere request, please do not throw even organic trash out.
And she replied with the most soft voice, drenched with sarcasm and insolence- you should not worry about all these small things [don’t be such a nit-picker], you should take care of yourself first [stop telling people not to throw organic trash].
I said OK, and walked out.
I thought what a miserable failure of our environment education. The woman was educated, was economically well off, was aware of organic and inorganic trash, claimed to know what her trash was made of, was aware of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan and YET justified littering. Her behaviour told me that she passed her environment education “theory” but failed her “practicals”.
Environment Education failed because it didn’t instil the “value” of the being environmentally conscious. Knowing facts about the environment will only help you, at the most, put up a poor defense for your actions. If your facts are not grounded with a true environmental value, and these values don’t reflect in your actions, then knowing all that you know makes no sense. And if she thought that it’s JUST a piece of litter, it’s no big deal, too small to matter- then well – she probably wasn’t taught that it is drops of water that make an ocean.
JUST A PIECE OF LITTER INDEED!