A rubbish dilemma

So here’s an interesting dilemma for you.

You are on a train in India, the only westerner in an 8-person compartment. Despite a lack of more than about 20 common words (14 of which are Hindi), you have made friends with the man sitting next to you. He has bought you a tiny plastic beaker of Masala Chai from the guy going up and down the train, which you are enjoying the dregs of, marvelling on the beauty of travel connections.

As he finishes off his cup, he opens the rusty window a few inches, and casually flings the empty out of the window, smiling broadly at you and inviting you to do the same.

What do you do?

It’s not quite as simple as it sounds.

It would be fair to say that the idea of responsible waste management is not one that has set India alight. In fact any kind of waste management would be a novelty here. Walk along any road in any town or city and you will see all all kinds of rubbish (and I mean ALL kinds) strewn down the side of each and every road. And the cows – well, the cows add their two-penn’orth as well with a good sputter (new word of the day – work it out) at every opportunity.

[I remember being told in New York not to look up all the time – it’s a sure sign you’re a tourist marvelling at the size of the buildings which no self-respecting New Yorker would do. The same could be said about looking down in India.]

The waste is so in-your-face and so alien to anyone from the UK that it was the first thing I discussed with the first guy I met on the second evening I spent in India (in Mumbai) over 3 months ago. By a happy coincidence, Hannu Laaksonen was a manager in the Waste Management department of that cleanest of cities Helsinki.

In response to my moral outrage a the lack of street wastebins, Hannu calmly pointed out that there’s not much point in having bins if you have no-one with a truck to collect the rubbish in the bins, and there’s not much point having anyone with a truck to collect the rubbish in the bins if you have no dumps for the trucks to go for, and there’s not much point having dumps if you have no intention to do anything with the rubbish once it’s been dumped.

Which is a long-winded way of saying that, basically, there’s not many people here who really worry about the rubbish. It’s not a priority for government at any level (or presumably for voters). The street is the waste-bin.

So back to the dilemma. I didn’t fling my cup out of the window onto the street, and earned a puzzled look as a result. Instead I put it under my seat. Where someone would later find it. And fling it out on the street. Hmmm…

I am now in Jodhpur. The experiences keep coming thick and fast. In the past 48 hours I have had to rescue my flat-cap from being torn to shreds by stray dogs, have witnessed a Shakespeare play in the Fort here (bizarre but brilliant), and attended two impromptu wedding celebrations. More tomorrow.

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Filed under 'mind the gap' journey 08-09, All posts, India '08-'09, North India

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