Trashing it

"This reminds me of a story I read on the net. Garbage collectors in Ankara, Turkey, have opened a public library comprised entirely of books once thrown away and destined for the landfills"

I walk every evening along a serpentine road skirting a hill. It’s
quiet, shady, with a view of the city spread out down below. There is very
little traffic and the air is pure enough to safely breathe in deeply. In such peaceful
solitude, the mind sinks into a dream-like trance, memories wake to life, the
soullessness of urban life is forgotten and the spirit soars blithely among the

If this
sounds too good to be true, you are right. My spot of green heaven is changing
even as I write this. Blocks of ugly, half-built apartment building blocks are
coming up on the slopes. Loud-voiced labourers of unidentified origin shout
raucously above the drone of drilling machines. Bricks, stones, iron rods,
sacks of cement lie by the roadside. In a year or two, families will move in,
cars will glide to and fro, horns tooting, making me tense as I walk. And the
worst fear I have is of garbage thrown carelessly into any open space, putrid
dumps that will emit a stench which will sear you to the core of your being. My
tranquil thoughts transform into a mood of foreboding.

Then I
meet her. A little girl in pigtails, vest and shorts wriggles by the side of
her grandmother as they sit on a cement pillar by the roadside. I tickle her
chin, ask her name and try to make eye contact. She buries her face in her
grandmother’s lap. I feel a small twinge of disappointment.

This goes
on for a few days. Then, one day, when I least expect it, she trills and
toddles towards me, arms outstretched. We hug and she finally tells me her
name. Isha.

“Is it
alright if I give her chocolates?” I ask the grandma.

she gives a toothless smile.

So, there
I am, meeting her again, this time with a bar of chocolate. She grabs it from
me with her podgy little fingers and is soon tearing the packet with her teeth.
I get a warm, fuzzy feeling. But it doesn’t last for long. The sight of that chocolate
wrapper on the side of the road makes me profoundly uneasy. I too am culpable.
If I am to indulge little Isha this way, there will soon be a mound of empty
candy wrappers in my green heaven. What have I done?

As a Sixties’ child, I go dewy-eyed at the mention of Woodstock – that iconic festival of free love and music. But, when Woodstock ended, about 700 acres of garbage was left behind on farmer Max Yasgur’s farm. It took over 400 volunteers and 100 thousand dollars to remove it all. Idealism often comes with a smelly aftermath.

The binary of modern
capitalist society is produce and consume. We produce more than we need and consume
in a kind of mindless frenzy that is greedy, grasping and forever unfulfilled.
My elderly aunt is very happy with her new Chinese phone because the moment it
conks out, she can just throw it away and get a new one, e-waste be damned. Our
consumerist society looks like it is going to choke on the garbage it
generates. Land that could have been used to grow trees, vegetables, flowers or
crops are being used as landfills. Citizens and governments blame each other.
Consumers cheerfully pay for the plastic packet in malls. The price is no
deterrence. Then, a word about the food delivery companies that are falling
over each other to enable us to have restaurant food at home and work with
frictionless ease. The food comes in plastic containers, plastic dishes,
wrapped up in cellophane. After we eat, it’s a struggle coping with all the
garbage we have generated. So there you have it – conscience vs convenience.

Every time you pass a
garbage bin, don’t you see women and children working  through 
the trash for bottles, cardboard boxes and anything that can be
recycled? We think of these people as garbage, whereas, the truth be told, they
are performing a useful task. This reminds me of a story I read on the net.
Garbage collectors in Ankara, Turkey, have opened a public library comprised
entirely of books once thrown away and destined for the landfills. It all
started when sanitation workers started collecting discarded books. As news of
the collection spread, residents donated books they were meaning to get rid of.
Today the library, inaugurated by the Mayor, has 6,000 books, ranging from
literature to non-fiction, children’s books to works of scientific research. People
who used to dump their books on sidewalks now carry them to the library. It has
become a popular haunt for people of all ages.

Creative people can
extract value out of trash. Remember the movie Wall-E? Centuries into
the future, the Earth is a bleak, garbage strewn place where the only denizen
seems to be Wall-E (short for Waste Allocation Load Lifter-Earth Class). Wall-E
comes across an egg-shaped robot left behind by a spaceship. She is Eve and
she  is sleek and stunning. Love blooms
but she hurtles back to mankind’s current home – a spaceship named Axiom.
This is where humans float on personal hovercrafts, interact via screen phones and
have grown so fast that they have forgotten how to walk. Wall-E follows Eve to
Axiom, and unlashes a chain of events that change mankind. For children, Wall-E
is a cute robot. For adults, this future dystopic scenario – especially the
scale of the garbage, seems frighteningly probable.

Last month I was  reading Katharine Boo’s Pulitzer-winning
novel Behind the Beautiful Forevers. Memorable characters live in the
Mumbai slum of Annawadi. There’s Abdul the garbage sorter, who sustains his
family of 13 by selling recycled items to a recycling factory. Another young
boy Sunil realizes how a better future is beyond reach for others like him. A
high wall has been built to hide the slum from international airport’s rich
international passengers. Writing about families teetering on the brink of nowhere,
Boo reveals one of the 21st century’s hidden worlds.

Indeed, the future is
not just about flying cars and finding the secret to human immortality. Now,
the vision should also include how to lessen the garbage before it swallows us
up. In fact, the good thing about dying is that it is only then that you
finally stop generating trash. Think about it.

Trashing it Trashing it Reviewed by feedvalley on June 03, 2019 Rating: 5

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