The Ravaged Queen
Most of us must have come across the childhood tale of two friends, a bee and a worm. One day the bee invited the worm to his garden. “My friend, the worm, spends all his time in dung,” thought the bee. “It would be nice for him to smell some fragrant flowers and see my beautiful garden for a change.”
However, when the worm was brought to the garden, he told the bee he was not impressed. “You promised me an amazing experience,” said the worm disappointedly. “This garden looks nice, but it smells just like my pile of dung.”
The bee was astounded! After a moment’s thought, the bee took his friend to a nearby pool of water. “I have an idea,”said the bee, and he immediately dunked the worm’s head in the pool. The worm became furious, but, as his head emerged from the water, the worm suddenly inhaled all the wonderful aromas of the garden!
Having spent so much time burrowing in filth, the worm could only smell the dung that had been stuck in his nose. When the bee pushed his friend’s head underwater, muck in the worm’s nose was washed away and it was then able to enjoy the beauty of the garden.
Actually, this simple fable crossed my mind as I was making a brief visit to Mussoorie from Dehradun after a gap of almost fifty years. Loaded with clouded memories of comforting clouds wafting through a picture-perfect cottage we occupied for a couple of days, I was foolishly expecting nothing to have changed.
Well the clouds were still there and so was a fair amount of greenery on the hills protected by government regulations. What had horribly changed was that real estate dons had taken over huge land parcels and sold them to all and sundry. Hundreds of hotels, restaurants and guest houses had emerged in every conceivable nook and corner within a radius of 10 km from zero point.
Accessing them were tourists from all parts of the country including many who were probably expending their LTC claims. Honeymooners and couples wanting to just escape from ‘God knows what’ were still a familiar sight. The roads closer to Gandhi Chowk were however clogged with traffic with diesel fumes and persistent horns abusing the ‘once upon a time’ serenity of the area.
Large buses requiring Vaseline treatment on the sides to slip through the narrow roads. Masses of people enjoying street food savouries at every picnic spot listed on touristy websites. I wondered how could this place ever be termed a ‘getaway’? It was no different from where I had come from. My nostalgia was irrecoverably shattered.
I tried to reason with the so-called inevitable ‘march of development’. But one thing I could not digest was the massive amount of litter strewn around both sides of the roads. Used water bottles, soda cans, thermocol plates, empty chips packets and every form of rubbish and waste were adorning the Queen of Hills. Insensitive ravage and abuse it was. But was it any different from garbage dumps in the plains and other parts of the country?
I strike up a conversation with the burly, handle-bar moustache hotel owner, Rambo who has dropped by to say hello. His friends address him with that nickname and he is pretty proud of it, it seems. He is quite an environmentalist I gather from his talk. He tells me, “Sir, the Govt’s Swach Bharat campaign did try to make some inroads some eight years back. Today it does not seem to be a priority area any more.”
“This abuse has to end one day or we will totally lose this beautiful place on earth. India becoming fourth largest economy and a superpower to reckon with in fifty years. It surely does not behove us. How do you think we can change behaviour patterns?”, I lamentingly probe him.
Rambo lets off quite a bit of stored-up steam, “Red Fort speeches are just a tiny part of the awareness campaign but not the solution. All that is just rhetoric when today we feel ashamed to invite someone to our country for fear of the visual treat of our omni-present garbage dumps. No doubt it is a big challenge for the govt but they must take it up. They say the responsibility is collective but collective means dilution and dilution is what you see today. They cannot absolve themselves and get away with it.”
“So what do you propose?”, I ask.
“Well certainly not rocket science for a committed administrator. Tighten the laws and announce substantial levels of penalty which hurt and hurt badly. Bring in awareness and segregation training right from the kindergarten stage. Make waste-bins available in such good measure that if you look around anywhere you should be able to spot one. Have a robust back-end arrangement for litter pick up and recycling. And lastly create an environmental police force for strict enforcement.”
“And mind you, all these pieces have to come together at the same time. It will probably take a 15-20 years to clean up this mess if we start today in right earnest. And we haven’t even started yet! I know it is easier said than done. New policy comes from political will and priorities. And that will come only if it hurts. At the moment, we are collecting the golden eggs but it is not hurting adequately. The garbage ‘creation to recycle’’ ratio must change drastically before it is too late.”
“And what about the damage already done?”
“Pay the cleaning staff what they truly deserve and give them dignity.Tighten the municipalities and use the MNREGA* work force to address that. That fund is not giving you any tangible dividend it appears”, he counters without a thought.
I agree that solutions are aplenty but Rambo has given me enough food for thought for the day. I wonder, are we all not like the worm in the fable who had become so used to the pervasive dung that we can not fathom and preserve the beauty around us? Who would ever dunk our heads in the water? Will we ever realize the folly of our deeds and the legacy we leave behind?
My good friend Rambo is also into dog-breeding and makes a hefty sum out of every litter he raises.
That’s fine for him but the challenge is indeed to convince ‘the powers that may be’ that all that (g)litters is certainly not gold.
Postscript: Please God, let my country one day awake in a world where innocent cattle are not munching polythene milk-packets and little kids are not scrummaging through garbage heaps to earn a rupee or two. It hurts! Deeply!
*MNREGA: The govt’s Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act 2005
First published at seekmediation.com on 03/11/22
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The bee and the worm fable, kind courtesy: https://www.baps.org/EnlighteningEssays/2017/An-Excerpt-from-the-Sleepers-Guide-to-Katha-(Part-1)-12103.aspx