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Confronting Elders For Littering Can Be Tough, Here’s What I Faced

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By Parvathi Preethan:

Little things can sometimes make a big difference. People might call this saying clichéd, flawed and maybe even unrealistic in some contexts. That’s the sadness of this world. There is hardly any belief left, hardly any faith. If you are dreaming, why confine your dreams, why limit them? If you are daring to dream, then why not dream big? I guess I am not making any sense here. So, before I ramble on, I need to introduce the context on which this little musing is based.


I have always been an environment freak. Ok, make that a partial environment freak. Like I am a stickler for keeping the roads clean and not throwing trash on them, unnecessarily wasting water, electricity etc. I mean, these are little crimes that we do to the environment that I’m directly exposed to. (And no, I don’t think crime is too harsh a word here. Environment-freak. Period.) The polar ice caps that are melting out in the Antarctic is not something that weighs too heavily on my conscience, because well, it’s too far away and at least for now, I don’t think that there is anything I can do about it. Maybe I too am falling prey to the limiting-my-dreams syndrome here.

So yes, even though the ice caps and the factory pollution are much more important and pressing concerns, I limit myself to the small ones like cleaning your own trash.

A little anecdote.

I travel by train in Kerala. A state that boasts of a 100% literacy rate. But you look out of the train windows, and you can’t help wondering that people who claim to be so educated still don’t know the difference between a dustbin and a railway track. It’s depressing to see the scenic beauty marred by piles and piles of rubbish. So I tried to “do my bit” and stop people from throwing garbage out of the windows

Once it was this man in his forties who was sitting next to me. He was drinking tea and merrily chatting with everyone in the compartment. I learnt that his daughter was an ex student of Delhi University, the same place where I am currently studying. Anyway, he finished his tea and made to throw the glass out of the window. I was sitting next to the window, and by reflex my hand reached out to stop him. But he didn’t even realize that my intention was to prevent what he was going to do. He just asked me to move my hand, and out went the cup. I felt so lame at that point in time. Like I didn’t even have the courage to stand up for what was so obviously right! And believe me, it isn’t that easy. Telling a random stranger, an elder gentleman not to do something in a public place is quite intimidating for a teenager. But I knew my conscience wouldn’t rest until I did. So I went ahead and told him. He was quite embarrassed, there was no doubt about it. He asked me, a little defiantly what should he have done with the glass instead. I politely told him that he could have waited for a dustbin at the next station. He spun some excuses about how he was really tired and that he had been travelling a lot, which I am pretty sure didn’t convince him either. After a while, he said, “Normally my daughter reproaches me when I do things like this and today when she isn’t there, it’s you. I truly appreciate it.”

Those sentences of his gave me this little inner glow and made me believe that maybe the whole exercise hadn’t been so futile after all. Maybe the next time he is about to throw trash out, he will remember me and he won’t. Maybe he will stop others from doing the same. I know it’s a very big “maybe” but well, there’s no harm in being optimistic.

There was this other incident too, that didn’t have such a positive ending. A couple sitting opposite me brought snacks at this station where the train had stopped for some time. The lady was going to throw her waste out of the window even though there was a dustbin right outside our window on the platform. I gave her an empty plastic bag that I had and told her she could put her plates in them, and that I would throw them out later. She got all embarrassed and edgy and said it didn’t matter and bang, threw the plates out on the platform! Trust me, I had a real hard time being polite to her after that. I mean, are people so dense that they can’t let go of their ego even for keeping their own city clean? It’s puzzling, to say the least.

I sometimes feel like giving up. I feel the pointlessness of my pathetic one-man show of cleaning the railway track and the roads when nobody else cares. Especially when friends tease you and throw their chocolate wrappers right under your nose to instigate you and to annoy you. What’s even worse is when they try to convince you of the pointlessness of your efforts that you already feel.

But well, there are silver linings too. Even though they are too few, and far between. Like one of my friends stopped someone from throwing trash onto the streets. And she told me that she had done so after she saw me. This shows that the chain can grow longer if we all just take each other’s hands and strive for it. It isn’t “entirely pointless”.

There was this story I once read of a man who was throwing back the starfish that had been washed upon the shore back into the ocean one by one. His friend came up to him and questioned him as to what he was doing. There were probably a hundred starfish on this shore, a thousand on another shore, a hundred thousand somewhere else. What difference could he possibly make? The man didn’t answer at first. He picked up yet another starfish, tossed it into the sea, and calmly replied, “Made a difference to that one”.

This shows that one person can make a difference, albeit a small difference. Little things do lead to big changes. You just need to believe in it. Ultimately, it’s your belief that counts.

You must be to comment.
  1. Kartik Jain

    Well said..Ill take it forward from my take it forward from your side..:)

    1. Parvathi Preethan

      Appreciate that! 🙂

  2. pavan

    Awesome and very inspiring article dude..
    Really good article and people should believe that small differences make big difference later time.I too do the same some times but many a times do not object but I feel though people know that it is wrong I do not know why they do it.First people should change and then only system will change.

    1. Parvathi Preethan

      Thankyou 🙂

  3. Safa

    Hey I get it. There was this lady who once threw half eaten food onto the railway track and I was too far away to stop her but I walked up to her and said there was a dustbin five steps away and she just got all crazy on me. Maybe these little efforts will amount to something someday, maybe they won’t. But like you said, we can always try. Great job, Paro 😛

    1. Parvathi Preethan

      Yes, we will keep trying… Haha thanks a lot Safa! 🙂

  4. muskan saxena

    i will surely try to take it forward..!!

  5. akshay agarwal

    i feel like this post is an echo of my thoughts EXACTLY!! well written and i’m sure i shall keep this going…like you said every little bit helps! 🙂

  6. Parvathi Preethan

    Thanks 🙂

  7. Aishwarya

    OMG!! I just read my conscience jotted down on this site!! same experiences i always had whenever trying to stop people and my “educated” friends to pollute their own vicinity. And it is credible to note here that I too made a difference, not much, but yes a lil bit to change people’s casual attitude they have towards their own comely environment.

    1. Parvathi Preethan

      Really great to know that 🙂

  8. desi

    I have seen people clean their house and big compound (small retaining wall of their house and small garden) and throw garbage outside on the road as they cleaned up place. Also I asked people and small businesses to put small can and throw things but their response was negative. Cleanliness is self pride and self esteem as they own the place should be decent and clean but people in India lacks that since they are more worried about daily life survival. I have been through small villages on Europe and north America and all the places are sparkling clean. Its a sign of self dignity. People do appreciate clean things themselves but its limited to self. As beggars and vendors through trains making money. One youth came and sweep the train compartment and every passenger pitched in some money to him. But than i saw cleaning lady was cleaning railway platform as part of her job and there were some people were throwing things after consuming biscuits, candy and food from railway platform stall and did not care to walk 2-3 feet to throw garbage in the dump cleaning lady has gathered.

    1. Parvathi Preethan

      I know! The attitude of people are sometimes just so callous and utterly disgusting! But let’s try and politely show them otherwise. I’m hoping if all of us work collectively there will surely be a significant difference someday in the future. Till then, let’s spread the message as far as possible!

    2. Injun desi

      How to increase self pride is the root of problem. If person have pride in self, wants best of things including clean surrounding place.

  9. asht123dd

    Parvathi sounds depressing, anyways if we have to keep our surroundings clean, all we need is awareness which in turn requires investment. So let India develop and then we would have enough money to create universal awareness or possibly we could have cleaners doing the job for us. As for my friends they encourage cleanliness. As for now, investment in India on awareness in sufficient for now.

    1. Parvathi Preethan

      I sound depressing? Haha, maybe that’s because the whole issue is rather depressing.
      Anyway I agree that awareness is the key, and I’m just trying to spread awareness in any little way I can.

  10. saloni

    awesome! I am inspired. Next time, i’ll think twice before littering.

    1. Parvathi Preethan

      Cheers to that! 🙂

  11. gagandeep

    Really want to tell you one thing. If you want to stop someone doing wrong you have to dare. You just give example of that man. I give you many example more. But the problem is that no one want to understand and they simply throw things here and there. I too have taken many step but the reply was very bad for me. they simply say “ye road tere baap ki hai kya”.I dont know whats on their mind and they want to prove. but keep it up n all d best.. may be someday they will understand

  12. Rhythm Sachdeva

    What I like more about your article is the little faith that it tries to instill. We do need to believe in the power of one and be optimistic about the changes we want to bring in the society.
    Besides you have correctly pointed out that no matter a person is literate or illiterate, it is the “Education” that makes a difference.

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