Tuesday, September 18, 2012

We Are Squeaky Clean Indians

A few days ago, after dining at the food court in Inorbit, I visit the washroom and find this beautiful well-dressed lady applying make-up. Her 2-3 year old daughter is whining in Punjabi that she wants to pee. The lady lifts her daughter and sets her over the wash basin right next to where I am washing my hands and tells her to pee. I am shocked and disgusted but control my anger and politely tell her that there are 10-12 loos that she can take her daughter to pee in. She angrily retorts that she is only a baby and how does it matter. I tell her she may be a baby in her eyes but it is unhygienic and definitely not the place. I really think a crash course on peeing etiquette for kids is required since such parents exist. She retorts angrily that she can do what she wants and her child's pee is pure as they drink milk only so what's the big fuss. I lose it and tell her that a 2-3 year olds piss may be pure and drinkable for her but definitely not for me. I have no intention of viewing kids pee, pure or not, over wash basins and as a parent she needs to teach her kid the right etiquette and manners. She gets offended and starts abusing me but I leave as my friends are waiting and don't bother to retort as a crowd joins in and takes over.

Well, that triggered off this post. :) We were taught in school that cleanliness is next to godliness. That euphemism cannot be lost in context of our squeaky clean nation! Cleanliness for us means treating any place outside our homes including shopping malls, movie halls, parks, roads as the great Indian dustbin. Cleanliness also means expecting others to clean up for us. After all, India is a nation of servants where the poor and underprivileged are expected to clear up for the rich folks.

We crib about the filth and tend to blame it on illiteracy and the poor. Are the educated and rich not contributing to the great Indian trash pile at all? We see trash everywhere, outside apartment complexes, flying out of building windows, car windows, and any other nook and crevice possible. Literate parents, when out in a public place, conveniently give up their snobbish spic and span avatar to don an ugly Indian avatar. Suddenly these perfect mommas forget all about their ‘class’ and ‘upbringing’ and encourage their kids to trash anywhere and everywhere. In malls, I've seen parents wipe their kids’ fingers or some other part of their anatomy and throw the tissue paper right there on the ground despite the presence of numerable bins placed at convenient locations. Where is literacy involved in this trashing? I recently saw this message on the Facebook page of one of the apartment complexes in town. A flat owner publicly requested parents to ensure that their kids do not pee on the lawns where people play games, stroll, or sit on the grass. Despite the washrooms being right next to the swimming pool, parents encourage their kids to leave their urinary signature in the pool instead of ensuring they inculcate good habits. Is this some kind of territory marking akin to the dogs?

I see our watchman trying his best to keep our building clean and clearing garbage every morning but who is there to help. Folks upstairs throw litter outside their windows not caring that there are people who live downstairs or that they are littering the garden. They don't care or take it for granted that others will clean up for them. One fine Saturday night I even saw a whiskey bottle hanging on the branches of the tree outside my window. Yes, we are very proud and clean Indians, aren't we?

Even our clean, green, manicured office environment is not spared. Hordes of empty tea and coffee cups, cigarette butts, and discarded snack packets are found lying everywhere regardless of the umpteen dustbins all over the campus. So who is to blame for all this litter? Do we still blame the poor for not clearing the trash we generate or do we inculcate clean habits of disposing of one's own trash?

Last night, we were at our friend's place and he was telling us how they have been trying to implement various green measures at his workplace, one of the world's premier IT company where the choicest of folks come from the best educational institutions. One of the green measures was to reduce wastage of natural resources by getting rid of paper cups and introducing ceramic mugs in the pantry for their employees use. Even then the logistics of it has been immense because people don't return those used mugs to its rightful place after using them. You can spy those mugs lying all across the campus from the car park to the lawns and almost every nook and cranny possible. It has turned out to be a gigantic logistics issue for the service staff to go and hunt all across their large sprawling campus for those tea and coffee mugs. It has even been found in people's homes and in the outside railing of an apartment complex.

All this trashing also makes me wonder if we are turning out to be a wasteful generation due to the use and throw policy prevalent these days. Earlier, things were built to last and you would see furniture and crockery being reused and passed down from one generation to the next.. The older generations believed in recycling whether it was those empty glass jars for pickles and jams, or the milk packets and newspapers, or old clothes that would be sewn as a patchwork quilt. Even the refrigerators and toasters and other appliances were built to last.

However, in these instant times, where new is better, we are quick to generate waste way more quickly than the previous generations. It is futile wondering what kind of planet we are leaving for future generations. Our planet has over 7 billion humans generating colossal amounts of garbage, exploiting the earth’s resources in numerous ways, and contributing to the extinction of several species. The harm being caused to our environment is simply unimaginable. We now live in a fast moving consumerist age where people dispose off gadgets faster than clothes or until the next version of that phone hits the market.

Is this craze for new justified? What exactly are we chasing? Do we really need that many gizmos in a lifetime? Isn't this a dangerous trend in terms of the colossal amount of waste? Well, guess that's a different topic for another day.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Tiger Tiger Burning Bright

How times have changed! When my Dad was posted in the tea gardens from the 70s till the early years after 2000, we would hear of several isolated incidents of tigers and leopards attacking people and cattle. They would be captured and handed over to forest officials instead of being killed. That is because most species were by then in the endangered category and many had reached a stage of extinction, so we were out to save whatever was left of our wildlife.

However, hunting was quite common in earlier times whether for sport or safety. I was home in July enroute to Assam and was going through my parents albums when I chanced upon this photograph of my granddad and his colleagues with a tiger.

My granddad at the centre with his co-workers

My granddad was the Manager of a tea garden called Narayanpur near Tezpur. My Mom's early childhood was spent mainly in the tea gardens. The later years she was sent off to Calcutta for her education where she lived in a big, fat joint family in New Alipore with loads of aunts, uncles and cousins. :) However, during the holidays, she would visit my grandparents in Assam.

This incident occurred before she moved to Calcutta. One afternoon, sometime in the late 1950's, my granddad came home for lunch and informed my grandmom that a tiger had been hiding in the tea bushes and had attacked a woman tea plucker biting off her hand. The woman was immediately transported to the nearest hospital and the other tea pluckers had gone off to their quarters early as it was too dangerous with the tiger still on the prowl somewhere in and around the tea bushes.

News had also spread like wildfire that the previous night the tiger had taken a few hens, goats, and other domestic animals from the living quarters. That was also the reason everyone suspected that the tiger may return any time and were frightened.

When dusk fell, my grandfather instructed the night chowkidar to check that all doors and windows were properly sealed and ensure that no one stepped out of the bungalow. After giving instructions, my grandfather got into the jeep and drove off in the darkness of the night.

It was a cold night and in Assam darkness descends even quicker during the winters. Those days there were no phones and my grandmom was extremely worried about my granddad's safety. She kept a vigil all night waiting for him to return. My Mom and her sisters all huddled up with my grandmom and wouldn't let her go anywhere out of fear. From the labour quarters which is at a distance, the sound of drums and tribal music could be heard rising eerily to a crescendo and fading out again. The labour quarters were made of mud and thatch roofs and were not very safe. The labourers lit a bonfire and there were festivities with song and dance not only because it was "Bada Din (Christmas)" but also to scare the tiger away with the sound of drumbeats.

My Mom doesn't remember when she fell asleep but she does remember waking up once in the night and seeing my grandmom chant prayers with these beads around her fingers. She went back to sleep and was woken again by the sound of voices. My granddad had returned and it was almost day break.

He narrated how he and Mr. Pandit spent the whole night in a machan built over a tree. They tied two goats and chickens to the bamboo sticks at the base of the machan to lure the tiger out of the jungle. The tiger got tempted and as soon as it appeared, they fired a couple of shots.

There was a lot of celebration and jubilation at the garden next morning. At 10 am, my granddad took my mom and her sisters to the office. The dead corpse of the tiger was placed right in front of the office and still looked scary. My Mom felt he may wake up any moment and attack again. She was frightened but also felt sorry for the tiger as she imagined that the tiger would be missed by his family members. This is one childhood memory that stayed with her and that is why she has kept this faded photograph for over 50 years.