Saturday, September 20, 2014

MUSINGS ON COASTAL CLEANUP

September 20, 2014 - International Coastal Cleanup Day at RK BEACH, VIZAG

Today, early morning, I went for ‘coastal cleanup’ to Vizag’s most famous landmark, the RK Beach. To be honest, I can’t say I jumped out of the bed thinking: “yaay, coastal cleanup”. It wasn’t like getting up at rooster call, trilling: “yaay, birding time”.  I grumbled, I groaned and groped for an excuse but I knew I would go.

The third Saturday of September got designated as International Coastal Cleanup Day somewhere sometime as these days are wont to and Indian Navy being the custodian of seas saw it as its bounden duty to jump into the fray. A brief official function was organised Navy style to ‘inaugurate’ the event after which the fraternity began picking garbage in earnest.
So there we were—men, women and school children, with black gash bags and gloves in tow, picking up coconut shells, flip flops (wonder why footwear constitutes one of the largest recognisable waste components after bottles and polythene bags), rotten vegetables that the hawkers must have left behind and other riff raff. You can’t discriminate dirt; it is largely the same everywhere—rotten food, paper, polythene, etc., but there was one major difference here. The venue was one of the most scenic ‘dumpyards’ I must have picked garbage at (not that I go picking garbage at public places)! Few naval ships dotted the horizon even as stray fishing boats plied closer to shore. There was much churning in the seas due to yesterday’s downpour and the sound of the waves proved a great aural accompaniment.

Within no time, the gash bags had swollen up and the beach looked unusually clean. There was the ‘photo op’ formality to be dispensed off—for the benefit of the media—which was done by the top brass with √©lan. Sceptics may have their doubts about such 'tokenisms' or may be derisive about the publicity, but at the end of the day, such symbolic gestures do go some way in raising awareness and the bar in changing mindsets. 

As a woman, as a lady of the house, I have put my fingers in dirt on countless occasions earlier, but I cannot say that I 'enjoyed' the experience then or that I did it now. I can’t even say that I felt happy doing this kind of ‘public service’. Au contraire, cleaning someone else’s muck is not my thing. I will soonest tell off an offender who thoughtlessly tosses a banana peel or a cigarette butt onto the streets, but would think twice before wallowing in filth. I believe in Gandhiji’s philosophy, but I am no Mahatma! If I were to be politically correct, I would say, “I was glad that I went and cleaned up the beach”. But hell no, I was not glad. I was angry. Angry—that as Indians we do not have the basic civic sense not to litter in the first place. That we cannot move ten feet to chuck garbage in trash cans and would rather fling dirt as though it were fair game. Angry—that we are not revolted by filth in our streets and neighbourhood, in our cities and country. ...That we accept it as a natural part of our landscape – stench and all.  

Here’s a thought: Why is it that men openly urinate in public? Is it really because we do not have public toilets? Think again. If that was the case we would have women doing it too. No, the answer is that men are simply not ‘toilet trained’!

Similarly, Indian public is not ‘trash trained’. High time it was. I, for one, am elated that for the first time we have a Prime Minister who is determined to turn that.