I’m very happy about the no-plastic-bags rule that recently came into effect, because garbage makes me grouchy. The streets in our cities are strewn with filth and stinking waste. Our hillsides are blotched with discarded plastic bags and cups. One of the saddest things I’ve ever witnessed is the sight of baby elephants, in the heart of a national park, eating plastic plates thrown there by careless picnickers.
Yes, garbage makes me very grumpy, especially when it’s lying within spitting distance of a perfectly good garbage dump. I have once gone so far as to get out of my car at a traffic light and toss a banana peel back into the car it came out of, telling the lady perpetrator that the garbage bin she must have thought was outside her window was in fact not there. Her sputtering outrage was a deeply satisfying thing, and I even walked away unscathed, because this was back in the olden days before Delhi drivers carried sidearms.
The other day I was in my car with an equally grouchy friend, waiting to pick up someone. We were watching a man sitting in his parked car in the middle of a service lane, eating off a plastic plate and drinking out of a plastic cup. “Just watch,” I said, “he’s going to throw that out of the window even though there’s a garbage dump thirty paces away.” No way, said my horrified friend, who lives in Singapore and therefore spends his time here in a state of constant shock with his hair standing on end. Way, I said grimly.
And, right on cue, the man licked the last of the food off the plate, licked his fingers, rolled down his window, dropped the plate and cup out so effetely that they practically rolled down the side of his car, and fell to smacking his lips and belching. My friend climbed out of my car, walked over to the other car, and picked up the trash with admirable politeness, telling the man that if he didn’t mind, he’d just put it in the garbage bin for him.
It was as if the fellow had been punched in the face. He hopped out of the car and began to yell after my friend as he walked to the garbage dump. “What is this?” he wanted to know. “What do you mean by picking up trash? All of India is full of trash! What do you think of yourself?”
“I’m just putting trash in the trash can”, said my friend.
The man whirled around, smarting, marched up to me and shouted, “What relation of yours is he?” None of your business, I snarled, and started my engine. He put a (dirty) hand on the hood of my car and said “Halt!” which gave me the terrible giggles, which collided with my anger and very sadly short-circuited my plan to run him over.
“How dare he pick up my trash?” the man plowed on. “How dare he even ask if he can pick up my trash? I won’t stand for someone behaving badly with me! Nobody should think they can behave so badly with others!”
We drove away while he was still fulminating in the middle of the road, telling a small, poker-faced crowd about his terrible experience.
This gentleman, like most law-breakers, took about half a second to turn an incontrovertible truth into an insult to his honour. If we have a national character, this must be it: When caught out, immediately deflect the issue and shout until everyone backs down for fear of hurting your little feelings (and, unfortunately, they too often will). Do not, under any circumstance admit a mistake and change your ways. That would be too much like a civil society and nation-building.