A place for everything


We know a lot about discarding trash and going green. Yet, even educated people throw used bottles and plastics into marshes and water bodies! What is the solution? The solution can start with even one person, exhorts G. Venkatesh.

Perhaps readers would be tired and bored reading articles like this one. Maybe it does not make any sense anymore, this persistent greenwashing without being able to change anything ‘on the ground’? Gandhi said, ‘Be the change you wish to see’. He was, but perhaps he could never see that change he wanted to see? Nothing has changed, not even a little, forget talks of full measures? Hence, all talk of respecting Mother Nature will just go down as dreamy, poetic, armchair-idealistic, ivory-tower, romantic nonsense? If all this were true, I would not have wasted time in putting pen to paper to convey this message to readers.

Unwanted sojourner – photo taken in Kumarakom, Kerala, India, in 2007

Unwanted sojourner – photo taken in Kumarakom, Kerala, India, in 2007

Take a look at the photographs. These were taken by the writer in three different continents – in 2007, 2013 and 2015. In North America (Raleigh, North Carolina, USA), Asia (Kumarakom, Kerala, India) and Europe (Karlstad, Vrmland, Sweden). What is common to all these? Surely not water, as the one from the USA does not have any water in it. Yes, you would have guessed it. It is just about things being in the wrong places. Two of these pictures are from the rich Western World, and one is in a developing country. Certainly, one cannot look at the water body in India and say that people in the developing world do not care for the environment, right? It is not that Raleigh, Karlstad and Kumarakom have not created places for these things which are floating on the surface of the water (or resting among the bushes). Everyone knows where those things need to be consigned to. It is only that many of us have not created the interest or inclination in our minds and hearts to do so. ‘A place for everything and everything will be in its place’, they say. But is that true? Even if there is a place for something, why does it float around on the surface of a river? Unless Homo Sapien wants to do something, having a place for something will not ensure that that thing is put in the proper place. The Kumarakom observation had prompted me to write a poem, which goes as under:

Floating towards an unknown destiny,
intruder, encroacher, unwanted sojourner.
This is not where I wish to be,
languishing, purposeless, cast-away by a reveler
drunk on New Year’s Eve,
frolicking in a rocking houseboat.
I cause harm without intending to,
eyesore in the backwaters, as I float.
Unwelcome alien spoiling the peace,
grudgingly obliged by anchored leaves,
when I rest awhile on my lonesome journey
to waste away in the open seas.
Hope someday a friendly boatman
hauls me up from the wet wilderness,
rows me ashore to my rightful place
and a reincarnation into usefulness.

The verdure of the biosphere and the azure of the hydrosphere and ecosystems where the latter supports the former, are treats to the human eye, veritably so. Why toss eyesores into them? Here, I am not meaning to condemn the plastics and paper, for these waste products have value…I condemn as ‘eyesore’ the act committed by man.

The hyprocrite’s way
I intend not to write about recycling technologies or the harm which plastics cause to life in the waters, as all that is known to most of us these days, and in fact some of the ‘tossers’ are university students or educated people who know quite a lot about biology, ecology, environmental engineering etc. In fact, one should not be surprised if highly-educated environmental engineers and industrial ecologists themselves insult Mother Earth thus! Hypocrisy is rife, in society and politics world over. ‘It is not enough to know, one ought to apply the knowledge. It is not enough to think and speak, one needs to act,’ wrote Johann Wolfgang Goethe, the great German writer, poet and philosopher.

Garbage languishing among the leaves in the river Klara in Karlstad in southern Sweden

Garbage languishing among the leaves in the river Klara in Karlstad in southern Sweden

Often I hear people telling me, “Well, what difference will it make if I decide to follow in Gandhi’s or Goethe’s footsteps?” They need to be reminded that it takes just a single match to start a forest fire. Long journeys begin with the first step. It does not matter where the step is taken and how…it had better not be delayed and must be taken as soon as possible! The true story about the ‘cascade of good’ that resulted with the introduction of wolves into the Yellowstone National Park in the USA with the primary motive of controlling the population of the deer, is well-known. Revolutions have begun with the ideas and actions of one man often – Jesus Christ and Christianity, Martin Luther and Protestantism, Gandhi/Mandela and non-violent resistance, Edison and the electrical revolution, Ford and the automotive industry….the list is long.

You could someday want to pick up that bottle floating on a river and consign it to a recycling bin. A dozen people may watch you as they pass by and perhaps just ignore you and not even bother to see and learn. But one conscientious man/woman may perhaps emulate you from the next day, and he/she would then inspire another equally-conscientious individual to follow suit. Unbeknownst to you, a change would have started…I am reminded of the Salman Khan-starrer Jai Ho, in which he exhorts each of his beneficiaries to not say ‘Thank you’, but instead promise to be a benefactor to three other people in need. What the protagonist expects in the film is a groundswell of goodness…and that happens towards the end of the movie.
Cleanliness, they say, is next to Godliness. Here, one is not referring in a narrow context to taking bath and wearing clean clothes, combing your hair and brushing your teeth, and vacuum-cleaning your home and washing the floors. It is the ‘corpus’ of Mother Earth, we are talking about, and the Home is Terra Firma…


G. Venkatesh

The writer is Senior Lecturer, Department of Engineering and Chemical Sciences, Faculty of Health, Science and Technology, Karlstad University, Sweden. He is also a freelance writer for several magazines around the world.