By Anindita Mondal:
As I approached, some ten thousand flies fled the spot, only to settle back again a moment later. Something sticky spread on the road that led to the Golchakkar. I could make out the dark patches. The sun was shining with all its might, at the zenith. Little bougainvillea bushes on the dividers, swayed gently with the occasional burst of hot summer breeze. There was hardly a soul in the vicinity. Right ahead, across the road, under a Babool tree, a cow sat chewing lazily. It was eyeing a discarded pink plastic bag that lay on the road, in melancholy.
I had covered my nose with the end of my cotton Dupatta. All I had intended to smell was my Caribbean Lemon deodorant. The bottle had read, ‘feel good freshness’. I needed that factor now, more than anything else. The air was heavy with a sweet-sour pungent smell, which if inhaled, hit deep inside the nostrils, directing the stomach to churn out its contents with immediate effect.
The neighborhood garbage dump I now stood by, more often than not serves as our ultimate landmark. Take a right from the garbage dump and enter the first gate on the right. There, you’re home. A right from the dump and the gate on the left, you’re at the Sharmas. Every morning a man collects garbage from both these houses and then, from several others in the locality, only to turn his cart upside down at this dump. Everybody gets a clean, germ free house to live in. Nobody protests.
But everyday when we step out of our homes, we are greeted by the fragrance.. Some of us, choose to cringe. Some pinch their nose. Some simply hold their breath for a while. I had heard Mukherjee aunty loudly declare one evening, from behind her sari pallu, “ Uff baba, ki gondho!” (What smell!) as she passed by it on a rickshaw with another aunty I didn’t recognize.
We cringe and we complain but none of us actually know how the dump looks like. If the stink can’t be helped, we care, not to let the sight bother us further.
The disturbed flies sent Goosebumps down my spine. The garbage dump stood with a challenge, in my face and I was already late for work. A bent thermocol tumbler hit the edge of my chappal and went flying. I decided to look where I was going so as to not step on something I might regret later. A plastic bottle, a pealing AA battery, a metal soda-bottle cap and then I met a disgusting gooey mess of crushed rotting vegetables and some kind of dung which was better if left not remembered. Some flies were feasting on this too. I carefully dodged everything.
To note in hindsight, it’s interesting that so much of what we throw away can be recycled. But at that very moment, all I was investing my energy, was in fighting my way through the ordeal. And I had almost done it. An auto had paused at the Babool tree. I prayed it would wait a bit longer and dashed to cross the road, calling out for it. It was then from across the road I thought I noticed something move in the dump.
From the corner of my eye I caught a yellowing newspaper sheet quiver right next to the green MCD bin which with years of dumping sat buried to its eyeballs in its own overflow. And it was there I saw, what was to make the autowallah to leave in irritation, as I stood frozen on the pavement.
Amongst the large angry looking crows that plagued the garbage dump, an infant sat squatting in the filth with the newspaper protecting it from the blazing sun. It sat near the bin, sucking on a dried half eaten orange, with glee. It sat under the crumbled paper and licked its treasure, closing its eyes and smacking its baby lips in innocent pleasure, each time it drew the orange out from its mouth with its petite fingers. I noticed its thin tiny limbs. They were as black as the big bulging plastic bags around.
I had heard the phrase, “cruel world” but was it really this cruel? I removed the Dupatta from my face and inhaled deeply. My eyes began to water. Yes, perhaps it was.
Hunching over the bit of orange, it pursued its endeavor with utmost dedication, unperturbed by my gaze. I realized, it was alone in its misery. I was, but invisible.
A car screeched to halt between us. The plastic bag rose with the gust, and began circling ominously, with the wind.