It was around 8:30 a.m yesterday. I was making the second cup of tea of the day for me. This tea needs be absolutely perfect for my day to go well. You see the first cup is like a quick fix after 14 hours of caffeine withdrawal and it is required to get the brain cells started in the morning. I gulp it down while multitasking – getting things ready for breakfast, boiling milk, cutting fruit or glancing through the newspaper headlines. But the second one – this follows breakfast when the morning chores are complete and I have the house entirely to myself having seen people off to work.. Now no compromises on this one. The colour has to be the right shade of brown – a little darker than ochre and a shade lighter than russet to be precise - with the right amount of sugar to set off the bitterness of the tea and enhance its taste and the temperature has to be perfect . Total ZEN. Ask me for anything after this and it is yours.

So it is important that I stay focused while making it because even a few seconds this way or that way can spoil it all and ruin my day. Now my architect was thoughtful enough to place a couple of windows in my kitchen in strategic angles so I can get a view of what goes on in the street while I am in the kitchen. So I was making tea and looking through the one that gives me a clear view of the crossroad junction at the beginning of my road and presently a young girl came in view – jeans, a short red kurta and red stole. About 19 or 20, definitely in college or just out of college. I saw her glance in all directions as she approached the junction and I thought she was looking for an auto to hire. The road was quite empty at this time on a Sunday morning. And she turned toward the pavement. Now I am familiar with men doing it all the time in preparation of using the road as a public toilet but this was a girl, a well-dressed young one and I decided that this can’t be her intention. I kept watching as she took out a plastic carry-bag from her purse, pulled out a coconut and broke it on a stone on the road. I have no clue what this was about as I have only seen people break coconuts outside temples. May be some kind of superstition – a way to get rid of evil spirits. No problem. Coconuts are bio-degradable. A cow might even eat it for breakfast. So I had no issues with that.

But what she did next, that was unpardonable. No less than all those crass men urinating on the roads. She started crossing the road pretending that someone else had broken the coconut there and casually tossed the plastic bag on to the middle of the road . Now this really got my goat. An 'educated young girl' throwing a 'plastic' bag in the 'middle' of the 'road'. Too many unforgivables. And the nonchalance with which she did it suggested that she was n’t even aware of what she was doing. As if that was just the way one is supposed to dispose bags after their utility is over!
I wanted to catch her by her red stole and drag her back and make her pick it up. But unfortunately, by the time I turned off the stove and managed to reach my gate she had gone past two houses. I clapped my hands and shouted ‘hellooooooooo’ but she did not hear it or ignored me leaving me to seethe over my second cup which was ruined in any case.

I do not know if I might have been less angry if she had at least shown some signs of guilt while throwing the bag in that manner or tried to do it stealthily like the way she looked around while breaking the coconut. No, she tossed it confidently as if she was flicking off a leaf from her kurta and walked on. This apathy is more dangerous. And this apathy from a younger, educated person is even more disgusting.. When I take a walk in our neighborhood park, sometimes I see small kids throwing biscuit wrappers around. They don’t know better, so I tell them to use the garbage basket. Usually they are brought there by young girl-maids who take care of them and they don’t know better either due to their lack of education. But at least they comply when you tell them a couple of times. But what do you do with people who know that they are not supposed to do it and still do it because they could not care less or there is no real penalty for doing it. Perhaps it is a good idea to have fines for littering the way countries like Singapore have. You try to reason with our ‘educated’ people and tell them why it is important to preserve our environment they don’t care. They always want someone else to do it all before they can do their bit. But tell them that there is a fine and they will fall in line. But then again enforcement of any rule or law is always a problem in this country.

Is it something new or is it part of our psyche – a part of being Indian? Was this the reason why our ancestors invented punishments by Gods when you violated rules and codes of conduct?
‘You are to keep your surroundings clean – otherwise the Goddess of wealth would be annoyed and decide against living in your house.’
‘You are not to waste food because it is an insult to Goddess Lakshmi who would curse you to a life of hunger.’
I thought that all this was to instill a sense of discipline among people who lacked the privilege of education and the ability to reason. But education doesn’t really seem to make a difference especially when people are so selfish and apathetic and cannot see beyond the tip of their noses. We need culture-specific solutions to these global problems. Tell an average Indian that it is bad for your environment. he can't understand why it concerns him/her. But tell him that it is bad for his family and fortunes, he will sit up and act."Only a threat to them and theirs and their material well-being will work with these people to shake them to do something for common good.

I am sure that is the thing that a crossroads-coconut-breaker would relate to. Had someone told her that there is a ’dosham’ for using plastic or throwing it on the street, she might have be terrified about throwing it. I have always lobbied for getting rid of superstitions but if that is the language people understand I am all for inventing and popularising a few of them – some dosham for indiscriminate use of plastic and bad karma for littering and for spitting which would follow you up to seven births or some such thing. I am sure the message will hit home. We just need to get a few swamijis to collaborate and we can have a clean country in no time.
We have so many of them already – a couple more can’t hurt especially if they help to save this planet. We seem to have so many rituals for pleasing other planets which are supposed to control our lives while forgetting the only planet that matters, this mother earth which is our home.
21 Responses
  1. For a moment I thought the young girl relieved herself in front of your house...

    I think littering is part of being Indian - I don't know why...Education i.e. learning to read and write doesn't necessarily instill the right values in people...These things have to be taught at home...Schools do play a part but most of it has to be taught by the parents...

  2. DivSu Says:

    Hi Usha

    Couldn't agree more. Right on the point!

    I love our superstitions for one and only one reason, they helped maintain superb discipline.

    Uneducated -> Superstition ->Follow blindly
    Educated -> Superstition -> Dissect methodically, understand the logic, discard the superstition and keep the logic and the lesson behind it.

    Unfortunately our educated class had evolved only up to the first stage, that is they no longer believe in superstitions but don't take that extra step to go ahead and analyze why it came about in the first place. Some of the "rules" we have are just so smart, it amazes me. And equally pains me that a bulk of the people don't even realize this :(

    I read once about the author Khushwanth Singh hiding and pelting stones at passers-by who dared to pee on his wall. I am all for carrying a bag around for such insensitive jerks.

  3. Am wondering WHAT would drive an educated young girl to breaking coconuts on stones in the road..????!!! and then leave the coconut pieces there and throw the plastic bag into the MIDDLE of the road? if she HAD to, couldn't she at least do it by the side of the road?
    And that too all this on a Sun morn at 8.30??? Utterly unconcerned about pollution, that too plastic, yes, but weird too, don't you think? If only you'd been able to hail her....

  4. Usha, I am not sure the girl would have listened. I once asked someone in our park , not to throw plastic water bottles there after I saw them throw, and I was asked if the park belonged to my father ("Kya ye aap ke baap ka hai ?"). I just said "Yes!" and stood there...(after all we do say"Mai Baap sarkar")...

    But i feel that things are moving too fast for the newer generations. they have lost the art of "imbibing"; today its all about acquiring and rushing across. She was probably speaking on her cell phone as she crossed and tossed the plastic bag.

    Its like flyovers. In the big rush to bypass and reach somewhere, you miss out on the little nooks and turns in life, where you can observe and learn.

    But announce a morning where people will pick up trash in a big bag with a logo, and free t-shirts, and caps , and I am sure this girl will be there.....


    (On another note, Usha, I just managed to make it to the Top 10 Mothers Day contest countdown. :-)...Final voting from now till Mothers day. Greatly value your vote (details on my blog) ....Thank you!)

  5. I don't get it.
    I do not throw even candy wrappers out in the open.
    Even if someone has already made the roadside a trash bin lookalike, I don't.
    Two wrongs do not make a right.
    Had to tell this line to my nephew who asked me why shouldn't he be throwing the toffee wrapper just outside the shop,as that is how everyone does it.

    If I don't find a trash bin,I stock the wrappers in my pocket and dump it at home(obviously in the trash)


  6. Cacophoenix Says:

    I usually get the "They are from America.." look. A couple of times I even had perfectly educated people who act as if a tsunami hit them if their kid accidentally pees elsewhere in the house throw trash or spit out in the public and tell me "What is life if you don't have the freedom to even spit wherever you want"

  7. Maddie Says:

    We tend to forgive the uneducated. But if you observe more carefully, the educated are in majority for breaking the rules. Since they are so sure that no rule exists. These educated people will behave immaculately in a foreign land, to show that they abide by their rules or just to throw an impression about themselves. But you can see the change in their attitude once they land at the airport.

    Spitting anywhere is another common vice specially found among rich people who drive around in cars. Just as the car stops at some signal, they will roll down the glass window and spit.

    I think there's a difference between being well educated and well cultured.

  8. Hip Grandma Says:

    'We seem to have so many rituals for pleasing other planets which are supposed to control our lives while forgetting the only planet that matters, this mother earth which is our home'

    how right you are.I hope this message gets into the heads of our Gen X kids who like the US of A seem to think that pollution is the poor man's (read Country's) problem.They can dump all the non degradeable stuff and yet get away from their negative impact on our environment.unfortunately we learn the hard way.

  9. diya Says:

    Really, it takes all kinds...pity you could not catch her...wish to get my hands on her myself...growl... I am struggling with my brat to teach her these lessons too...this lady's momma must have left the job undone. How much ever education you may get it is the home that determines civic sensibilities. Get yourself a katapult and aim the stone at the posterior of such characters, I say!!

  10. Anonymous Says:

    Oh, yes the plastic bag. People really need to be educated on the problems.
    Please see this campaign from Save the Bay in Califormia


  11. Serendipity Says:

    LOL@catch her by the red stole.But really!you should have , and whacked her hard.And also , you couldve asked her about the coconut breaking funda , its gotten me curious!

  12. Mama - Mia Says:

    like i always say litracy and education are two different things! and its indeed sad that we cant offer more of latter!

    for most they dont even THINK they are doing anything wrong! its been a way of life for too long!

    i remember ages ago travelling in local train and sitting with a family of three with a perhaps 5yo kid! the kid ate some chips or something and was throwing the packet outta the window.

    i stopped him and told him its wrong and made him put it in a small bad he was carrying!

    M was mortified at my behaviour since parents were giving me dirty looks! but then i thought maybe this kid will grow up mores ensible and sensitive to the environment...

    hope you catch the girl next time! :D



  13. Arpita Says:

    Sigh. Frankly education in India seems to have very little to do with common sense. The poor or uneducated arent the ones responsible for the largescale pollution of the world.. its the industries manned by supposed educated who've made us cross into the climate change scenario.
    I fear sometimes that maybe what our education system does seem to impart is a sense of arrogance on being 'educated' which proly is far more harmful...

  14. Anonymous Says:

    I really could not have agreed more. I really liked the way you used 'dosham' in thorwing plastic on road in context to the girl trying to relieve her from her 'dosham'.
    Me being a young girl myself, I find it very bad to see people throw things out during train journeys and on roads. My school and parents have played a very important part and it has become my habit now not to throw things but to keep them with you till you find a garbage bin. And I am very proud of it :)

  15. Anonymous Says:

    Usha, my colleagues (wking in a MNC), have the same attitude as that girl you saw. They openly agree that they know its wrong, would never do it in any country outside India but would still do it here. Reason : "India mein sab chalta hai". These days I just walk away from any such conversation to maintain my mental peace and BP. No point arguing or explaining to them.
    What saddens me further is the fact that their kids will turn out to be the same and India has no hope of improving. :(

  16. chitra Says:

    many many happy returns of the day.

    i hope today you dont find reasons to get upset/angry about. enjoy.

    BTW, you have been taged. Please do take it.

  17. shoba Says:

    Weird! Why would a young girl break coconuts in the middle of the road.I cannot think of even a single reason!
    Many believe that rules are meant only for others.I am almost sure that the same girl would be talking about the environment and how to save it ,to someone else. Unfortunately,some people even take pride in doing these things.

  18. Was it your B'day y'day, Usha?
    Many many happy returns of the day, dear! :-D God bless you with good health, and lots of chuckles to enrich your days this year. :-) rather selfish here, in the hope that those chuckles will be passed on to us in blogdom.;-)

  19. Happy B'day



  20. maami Says:

    What is the use of calling ourselves educated without enlightened? I can't fathom that. We make unwise comments about the poor ignorant masses when we are culpable of more things that they can afford or are capable of.

    Nadu roadla thengai? Aiyo!

  21. Rasputin Says:

    long time lurker, first time that I'm commenting. I agree with one of the ladies that commented earlier that Indians in general tend to follow whatever rules that are thrust upon them in a foreign land and care two hoots about following it when they are in India. Being educated does not essentially equate intelligence, commonsense or sensitivity. In India, arrogance rules the roost. Thankfully living in a foreign land has helped my young daughter learn the right habits at a very young age.