Back in October 2013, I went to Andamans with Hari to celebrate our first anniversary. We were very happy once we reached to see that unlike a lot of other places in India, Andamans was still pretty clean, owing to the lower number of tourists. This might change in future. But at that time, it was a pleasant surprise. On the second day of our trip we took a day long cruise to three islands. By noon, we were provided with our lunch packets at one of the islands where there was a long shed for us to sit in. Hari and I sat on a bench and had our fried rice from the packet. Just opposite to us was a couple who had come on their honeymoon. They were well-dressed, looked hep and fashionable and were definitely from a well-off family. The guy finished eating fast and put his packet in a dust bin which was nearby. I was still eating when I looked up and saw that the new bride had finished her food as well and without flinching dropped her packet right where she sat, shamelessly. Her husband seemed completely unconcerned about it. They went ahead and washed their hands right there as well. I sat there shocked to see this behaviour coming from a seemingly educated couple. I wanted to go there, pick up her packet and put it in the dustbin myself. But something in me stopped me from doing that. The thought of her getting insulted and starting a row might have stopped me. I stopped eating, put my packet in the dustbin and walked away, quite disturbed.
It’s been almost one and a half years now since that happened. I have talked about it at least a hundred times to Hari because I felt guilty I didn’t do anything about it. I felt let down by myself. If there was any way I could go back in time, I would do it differently.
Then, as if giving me a chance to correct my mistake, God put me at the second platform of Ernakulam North railway station day before yesterday. I was coming home and my friend, Dijeesh was with me to see me off. We were sitting on a bench waiting for the train. Right next to us there was a father and his daughter of maybe 21 or 22. From the time we sat there we could hear her talk endlessly in a highly fake-accented English. Her non-stop chatter and her accent were irritating to Dijeesh. But I chose to ignore it. I could see though that she was munching on Kurkure and biscuits all the while that she was talking. After about 10 minutes, Dijeesh told me “There’s only the accent, no culture. She put all the waste packets right behind the bench on the floor.” I looked back and there, as he said lay one used packet of Kurkure, two packets of biscuits and a packet of Appy Fizz. I sat there looking at it for 10 seconds with my blood boiling. Then, without a word I got up, passed them, went behind them, picked up the packets and walked towards the dustbin which was hardly 10 steps away. I could see the father-daughter duo opening their eyes wide and look at me in disbelief as I was picking up the packets right next to them. Once I put the waste in the dustbin, I came back and sat next to Dijeesh as if nothing had happened.
When the initial shock was over, the first thing that came out of madame’s mouth was “Seriously???!!!” – in a tone which implied “How dare this dirty lady pick up after the mess I made?!” For the next five minutes till the train came, I could see the father stealing a glance towards me with shame in his eyes and trying to say something to her in a low voice. I guess he was trying to tell her that maybe there was something wrong in what they did because the tone of her reply was highly irritated and resentful. I couldn’t make out most of the gibberish she was saying, not that I was interested either. The only thing I heard was “Dad! It’s a democracy!”
Oh yes! It’s a democracy. So feel free to throw your waste wherever you want and make the whole country a dumping ground, because that’s exactly what you do in a democracy, isn’t it? There I was listening to a snob who was, no doubt, given the best education possible, but took pride in dumping her waste on a railway platform and claiming her right to do it. So much for the education we are providing our youngsters. But how can I blame youngsters alone for this, when they grow up seeing everyone they idolize do the same thing? It’s almost as if people care only about grades and degrees when they talk about education. When will people understand that the best form of education is the values we pass on to them right from their childhood? Sitting there, listening to her, apparently trying to justify herself, I wished she could understand where she went wrong. Then I thought, maybe that’s why she was trying so hard to justify herself. Maybe she knew inside she had done something wrong, without me telling her a word. After all actions do speak louder than words!