We all are very clean. Cleanliness has been a part of our culture and upbringing for thousands of years. Only, like everything else, we’ve modified the teachings about cleanliness to keep up with the times, so we clean our house and throw the muck on the street, smugly satisfied that we’ve done our job and earned our daily dose of Punya (virtuousness); firm in our belief that now it’s someone else’s turn to earn his share of Punya. After all, we don’t want to be selfish and take it all for ourselves, for that would be Paap (sinful)!
That ‘someone else’, whose job it is to earn his Punya from the street, swings his broom the way I swing my golf club – tentatively and timidly – and, exactly like me, he misses the ball completely, or just displaces it rather feebly, in an unintended direction.
That he seems more intent on salary, rather than salvation, must have something to do with the fact that he has already earned his quota of Punya by cleaning his house and throwing the muck on his street!
Recently, I attended a wedding, where they distributed sweets wrapped in paper. I ate one, folded the wrapping paper and placed it in my shirt pocket for later disposal in a bin.
Then I saw a boy, about eight year old, eating the sweet and holding the wrapper in his hand, watching me intently. Copying me, he tried placing the wrapper in his shirt pocket, but his shirt didn’t have a pocket. Then he looked at his young parents, who appeared to be educated and well off. The boy and I both saw his mother throw her wrapper under a chair, and then we saw his father drop it right at his own feet.
The boy seemed to be in a dilemma about whom to follow – an old stranger, or his own parents. Children seem to have an innate sense of right and wrong, so I watched him, hoping he would do the right thing.
He thought for a moment and then he too dropped the wrapper to the ground. Realising that here was an opportunity to educate the future of this country, I went to the boy, offered him my guiding hand and asked him with a grandfatherly smile, “Let’s find a dustbin for this. Shall we?”
“Wait! Where are you going with my son?” Enquired the Father.
“We’ll go find a bin.” I told him and, turning to the little boy, said, “Come on, let’s pick it up and put it in the dust bin.”
The boy’s mother seemed surprised and the father was angry.
“Pick it up? How’s that possible?” The father asked me.
Picking it up against the force of gravity seemed to him against the laws of Newtonian Physics perhaps?
“Why not?” I asked, smiling patiently, while picking up the wrapper dropped by the child.
The father said bluntly, “Everybody has dropped it.”
“I didn’t.” I said, still retaining my smile, although with an effort.
Then the Father used his ultimate weapon, revealing his clout. “We’re from the Groom’s side.”
He disclosed grandiosely, like a government official making an earth shaking policy announcement, and I felt like a thief caught picking a plain-clothes policeman’s pocket.
“Who are you?” He asked me.
Like the apprehended thief, I was not going to reveal anything unless subjected to third degree, so I kept quiet.
A bridegroom and his entourage are a blessed breed, especially on the wedding day and sometimes, ever after, till death do them part. I didn’t want to create a diplomatic incident between the groom’s and the bride’s sides by offending the groom’s best buddy or favourite cousin, so I backed off.
Sensing my surrender, he tried to be magnanimous in victory. Laughing, he said, “That’s the way it is done here. Just look around you.”
I did, and found the floor littered with those wrappers.
“You also throw it.” He advised. Then, to assuage my feelings, he declared, “Don’t worry, someone will clean it up.”
I was at a traffic signal waiting for the light to turn green, when a swanky car, costing at least fifteen times my car, came and stopped on my right, it’s rear door in line with me. To better admire it, I rolled down my window and looked at the shiny black beauty. It was spotless, dent-less and had dark tinted glasses. I wondered if the occupant was as beautiful as the car – an actress perhaps!
Then the rear door opened and a plastic bag with something inside was thrown out.
My eyebrows rose in surprise and I shook my head. Since I was in an ordinary car, almost cattle-class as compared to this one, I had expected better behaviour from the occupant, sort of regal and well-bred, which would have more suited the classy car.
Then, slowly, the door opened a little more and I stared openly and eagerly to see the gorgeous occupant.
The occupant turned out to be neither an actress nor too attractive. Heard the story where the princess kissed a toad and it turned into a handsome prince? Well, I felt as if the exact opposite had happened here!
It was a sinister looking man, with a face of a fifty year old, dyed dark hair of a twenty year old and lips redder than cherries, who leaned out and bent down rather humbly.
Since beauty is only skin deep, I was willing to forgive him his littering, for he appeared to be modest and courteous, especially by the way he bent down, possibly trying to pick up the garbage he had thrown.
But then he spat out a huge volume of Paan (beetle leaf) on the street.
I stared at him in disbelief while he threw me an imperious half smile and closed the door as the light turned green and his driver zoomed away.
Recalling the quote, ‘It takes one generation to become rich, but three to become refined’, I thought he must be the second generation, somewhere midway between cash and culture, monkey and man, literate and learned.
My neighbour has a coconut tree. Rather conveniently, it leans away from his house, towards mine. Every so often a coconut drops, with a loud ‘THWACK’, sometimes narrowly missing my vehicles, my limbs and my own nut. So I’m as fearful of stepping out of my door as a married celebrity from his mistress’s house, while the paparazzi wait outside.
Believe me, you haven’t heard a coconut drop, till it has dropped inches away from you. But ‘inches away’ being infinitely better than ‘inches not away’, I shelter under an umbrella while walking from my door to my car, without rain or sunshine.
Whenever a coconut drops, my neighbour, a retired bureaucrat, is out of his house at the speed of sound. Almost as soon as the sound of the coconut hitting the ground is heard, he appears like a genie out of thin air to claim his coconut. Of course, when a coconut leaf drops, he never turns up to remove it.
When I pointed out his discrimination against leaves, his answer, with a huge smile, was simple and scientific. “A leaf does not make a noise like the coconut!”
Since an average coconut leaf is about ten feet long and three feet wide, it is too big to be ignored or wished away. So, one day, I waited for him to emerge from his house to show him a huge coconut leaf lying next to mine.
He walked towards the leaf reluctantly, looked at it disbelievingly, glanced heavenward to confirm that his was the only coconut tree from horizon to horizon and then, with a huge sigh, lifted one corner of that leaf, dragged it a few faltering steps and left it on the street. Before I could say anything, he announced confidently, “Someone will pick it up.”
That ‘Someone’ used his broom on that leaf like he was using a fly swatter on a sleeping dinosaurs – afraid to wake up the giant!
The leaf would have remained there forever, so I paid a handyman to drop it in the municipal garbage bin. To ensure that he didn’t just dump it in another street, I followed him at a discrete distance.
The garbage bin was overflowing like a cup of joy, and looked not unlike the planet Saturn, as it was surrounded by rings of rubbish.
It was a Catch 22 situation. People didn’t go near the bin because of the garbage around it and there was garbage around the bin because people didn’t go near it.
So he threw the coconut leaf into it from afar, and it was clear that like many others before him, he had never been good at basketball. The leaf fell near the bin like a comet around the planet, near enough to be visible but far enough not to be in any danger of collision.
Noting the disappointment on my face, guess what the handyman remarked?
Right you are!
He said, ‘They’ll clear it up. Someone will!”
© Avinash Chikte