Thursday, November 4, 2010


Forgive me for interrupting the ‘Trilogy of Love’ (the epilogue to No Love Lost – episodes I & II) this week but this was urgent. I have been driving around with a lot of guilt these days. And the only way I could possibly forgive myself, perhaps even absolve myself of my recent crimes, is by sharing them with you. So, here I lay my sins bare, for you to join me in my penance, if it matters, and if you care…

Forgive me if I seem to preen and puff up my chest a bit, but in recent years I’ve grown rather proud of this habit of always stopping and snatching plastic bags out of a hungry cow’s mouth whenever I happened to spy one while driving past a dust bin or a garbage dump. I know I look like a crazed wannabe matador as I dance and bounce by the side of the road while trying to pull a polythene bag from a reluctant and often ill-tempered bovine behemoth but I just can’t drive away knowing that bag, if ingested, could kill the poor cow. In a way, I’m atoning for my own sins because until the day I found out that a simple plastic-bag could lead to unwitting murder, I too, had been blithely tossing vegetable and other biowaste tied neatly in polythene. Who knows how many cows would have met an agonising end because of my stupidity.

But then I got tired of doing it. There should’ve been fewer polythene bags around since the ban, but cows in garbage dumps seemed to be munching on them as if grass had gone out of fashion. Then one day, I was in a hurry and even though I happened to see a cow with a plastic bag rolled around its tongue, I just grit my teeth and drove past. There were just too many of them, I told myself. But of course I was wrong. This ‘typo’ is a penitent’s prayer.

The ubiquitous plastic bag went into hiding when the government in Delhi made some laws and a lot of noise about banning them. But apparently there are enough loopholes in the system that has allowed the humble yet lethal plastic back into our shops and our lives. Well, Ma isn’t complaining. And the truth is, nor are most of you. Until the plastic bag became as common as it did, none of you, Ma included, had any problems with carrying a jute shopping bag to the market. But now you’ve all been spoilt by the shopkeeper’s habit of handing out stuff in polythene and you just don’t want to change. When they brought in the law, Ma would crib about it. “What is the problem with a harmless little bag? It makes our lives easier, that’s the problem isn’t it? And who wants to see the middle class happy… not the government! And we reuse these bags… we don’t just throw it away…”, she would lament after making a trip to the market and forgetting to carry the jute bag my father had bought for the purpose. So, I would sit her down and explain, “Ma, these bags kill. And no, I’m not talking about the Mumbai floods that were caused by drains clogged with plastic. I’m talking about cows and people right here around us”. Now, cows, I hoped would really work with Ma because she’s a devout, and though she might not like the description much, a rather orthodox Brahmin girl. She wouldn’t ever want to be responsible for any hathya, least of all gau-hathya. And even if one were not to be orthodox, Brahmin or even Hindu, would we really want a harmless creature to suffer an excruciatingly painful death just because we happened to be careless, nay callous, with our shopping and our garbage?

Now that I had Ma’s attention, I continued… “When you bring that plastic bag home I know you want to reuse it. And whether it is about throwing the garbage or whether it is about feeding a cow portions of the puja offerings, I know you and most others seek out the services of that silent killer bag. And you should know what happens next when a cow or a bull happens to come across this bag full of peels, left -overs or prasad. First, the animal tries to get to the contents and avoid the bag. But its mouth is hardly as dexterous as our hands and soon enough, the plastic bag finds its way into the cow’s stomach with the rest of the stuff . Now, plastic, you must remember, isn’t biodegradable, and so there it sits in one of the animal’s four stomachs, clogging it. And with every meal, more and more plastic finds its way into the cow. Now, it can’t digest the plastic and nor can it pass it out. The stomach is swollen and distended but the animal is starving and scrawny. Lying on its side, the poor creature groans in terrible pain until it wastes away and dies a horrible death. Cut open any cow on our streets, and nine times out of ten, you’ll see a handful of bags in its stomach. The poor creature’s next meal could be its last, depending on where the bag ends up inside.” Ma was looking away. She seemed ready to concede a point. It was time to twist the knife.


1 comment:

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