Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Waste people

Shefali Tripathi Mehta, Dec 23, 2012

Mother Earth refused to take our dump. Landfills filled full and mountains of garbage threatened to flood back to drown us in our own muck.

Then Bangalore sat up and groaning under its load, implemented waste se-gre-gat-ion. Bangalore piles up 3500 tonnes of garbage each day. The farmers around the landfills took up scythes and a desperate administration implemented desperate measures.

But inside homes rubbish happened. On my floor alone there is a garbage thug that leaves it out in the common area each day, and has never been caught litter-handed. Can Houdini’s blood brother/sister be expected to comply as long as they can get away with trashing like this?

And here I am with a pile of garbage before disposal bins that are labelled Wet, Dry, Kitchen waste, Biodegradable and not-that. Not-that is further split into – Recyclable, Toxic, Soiled. Where does my milk packet – its inside milk-licked go? Why the sanitary pad that the ad says always dry, not so? The food foil, the toffee wrapper goes into Dry but is not recyclable. I never messed with such, I swear. 

The house-help finding her position threatened, assumes authority and informs me that it is simply ‘kitchen waste’ and ‘all else’! So garden leaves, she says is not kitchen waste but ‘all else’. If the discarded palak leaf is ‘kitchen waste’, how dare she discriminate against the fern! She challenges, ‘Eat and show?’ So I stuff the fern leaf – no, not in mouth but into another big bag I call Moot!

Kleenex and noses! How the muck did we land up with so much garbage!

Two decades ago, when foreign-returned talked of the pile up of junk in foreign and said in foreign they don’t repair, just ‘dispose off’ – cars and refrigerators of all things, everyone listened wide-eyed.

We had an army of grime-collared and amazingly efficient men who mended, oiled and painted to ‘brand new’ everything they could lay their dirty nails on. There were drycleaners who darned and dyed, repair guys that mended mixers, geysers, coolers, fans, even flasks; the sofaman squashed back jutting out sofa springs; tailors and mothers came together to turn old sarees into jholas and cushion covers, faded sheets into mattress covers, which by the way, weren’t foam or poly-fill but cotton that was beaten and fluffed out and added to when flattened out. Ditto with razais and pillows. Nothing had to be thrown away, shoe boxes were amassed for craft projects; fused bulbs carefully tipped out to grow money plants. 

There were cows in the aangan or the neighbour’s aangan to be fed the leftovers. The kitchen did not generate waste that could not be dumped in the garden to turn into compost. Frugality wasn’t frowned upon because nothing was two-minute. No snip of scissors produced ready-to-cook or to eat rice, curry, paste or puree in tetra or plastic packs. When bitter gourd was served for dinner, we knew what was coming for lunch the next day - its skin. Milk came in glass bottles that had to be washed and exchanged for more. So did soft drink. If you broke one, you repented. 

Birthday and unbirthday parties had people borrowing plates, spoons and glasses from neighbours. Wash and use was the mantra. One person was engaged to wash all evening for a continuous water-dripping stream of plates and spoons. It did not matter that some people had to wait because patience was not in short-supply.

 If the Sunday morning breakfast was to be got from the bazaar, steel tiffin carriers and dabbas were taken along, no eatery offered take-away plastic dabbas even for the price of Rs 2 and 5 we pay now. Atta was stored in Postman oil cans and dal in Sixer biscuit tins. Pearlpets, Tupperwares shelved those out. Cling foils, bubble sheets, zip pouches—how much plastic, polythene...we cannot do without! Even our soap, shampoo and ointment look delectable in shiny plastic containers on supermarket shelves. 

Waste people, all of us have become! Wait till treating someone like dirt becomes a term of reverence.

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