First World Plastic People

I love train journeys, but I fly to destinations, because you know – first world problems!

But recently, I got to make a trip to my hometown and instead of booking a flight, I registered myself up for a train journey. My mum was travelling along with me, and I thought it would be a good way to re-live the childhood days, where we would sometimes spend 3 days in a train, traversing across the length of the country, from its North to the South, just to reach various destinations. Though there weren’t AC coaches then, and travelling for 3 days would involve packing enough food, carrying a water camper as well as carrying dresses to change everyday, it used to be fun. This was because you would get to pass through a lot of cities, meet a lot of people, eat a lot of ethnic cuisines, make friends for life, play cards…  You would be in a desert in the afternoon, passing by a river at sunset and witness mountain silhouettes during the night. Next day would be spent passing through tunnels, the entire bogie hooting at the welcome change, as the train would cut through the mountain mists. As a kid, for me, it was a humbling lesson in the rich diversity of India – from its people to its places, from its culture to its linguistic plurality – the magnanimity of it all always left a lasting impact.

I thought to re-live all of this as I booked myself a Superfast express. The AC coaches were welcoming, the attenders were professional, and overall I braced for a comfortable ride. Before the journey started, I closed my eyes, inhaled deeply, and in full Bollywood style drama, rewound the scenes I was going to enjoy. My childhood played in front of my eyes. The siren was heard, and the trained jerked into motion. I observed that we took longer than usual to leave the cityscape! Umm.. Urbanization! Once we reached the outskirts, the usual pictures started to come into play. Paddy fields and children running around, cows, pigs, buffalos, and dogs and plastics. Yes, right, plastics. Lots of them. Stuck in mud, running through the rivers, being chewed by cows! Earlier you could find kids playing around cattle dung piles, but now they ran around what looked like plastic towers. It was there at the bottom of waterfalls, in the form of poly bags and water bottles, it was there in bunds, it was there in landfills. These scenes were unlike anything I had ever witnessed a decade back. A quick google search and I was informed that India generates 26,000 tonnes of plastic a day, according to a CPCB estimate from 2012. Worse, 40% of this plastic waste, remains uncollected. To add to it, we import plastic waste as well.

As any concerned citizen of the country I checked what the Govt was doing about it. Because the way we are wired, from a young age, we start to blame and look up to our Govt for any issue at hand. I found several articles that condemned the Govt. on its policies and its inadequate and thoughtless schemes. I couldn’t agree more! While at it, my online delivery notification popped up. 10 packages (neatly wrapped in plastic bags) were arriving and they were on time. Soon it was evening snacks time, and I tossed food packets (again neatly wrapped in poly material) that had been delivered just a few minutes before we departed to the railway station. Mum lamented on how she would put tiffins in place for all our journeys to which I rolled my eyes. “This corporate job and all…” I said, “I don’t have the time Maa! And why get into the hassles when it all gets delivered at your doorstep, neatly packed! You don’t even have to carry cutlery!” She looked outside the window. A flock of crows were hunting for food among a litter of plastic. She sighed!

But I had made up my mind till then!

No more train journeys. It was better to be up in the sky, away from the filth, saving time and probably guilt, because you know – first world benefits!  

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