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

Posted on December 20, 2013 in Environment

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.