By Manabi Katoch:
It’s been a year in Chennai now. Living here has not been easy at all. The weather, the culture, the language, the salty water – everything was a challenge for us. We came during the Navratras and were happy with the only good news that knocked our door in the form of a pamphlet, which said that there was a famous preschool chain being inaugurated in the lane just behind our house. Chennai has a culture of Vijay Dashami admissions. So, we and our family friends who got transferred here from Noida were more than happy to get admissions for our kids in this school. My daughter started happily to the school, only to realize soon that it’s totally different from the school she used to go to, back in Noida. They asked kids to take out their shoes outside the premises and madeÂ them sit on the floor. If a student were wearing socks, it used to be all drenched in water as they had no slippers to go to the washroom either. Soon my daughter started falling sick every other day. Consistent request to the school administrations to allow shoes or slippers even to the washroom was overheard. I hated the school for not following the basic hygiene rules for kids. As a mother, I have always taught my child to use a slipper to the washroom, wash her hands every time she comes from outside, drink only bottled water etc. And these school people were just ruining her health by exposing her to so many germs every day. Finally, I decided to just change the school and did so by the end of six months.
This was not the only headache that this new city gifted us. To my despair, there were no dustbins around our locality and the garbage collector was seen only twice or thrice a week for the collection. As a result, the empty plots on the sides, back and forth of our house were used as the garbage dump yards by all the residents unanimously. The few days when the garbage collector lady used to feel like working, she used to give a feedback paper to fill in. As the paper was in Tamil, my building mate mostly did the formalities. Frustrated with this filth around, I asked my Tamilian building mates several times to ask her to come every day. I even offered a bribe of Rs.50 per month if she would come every day. To this, she said something in Tamil which was translated to me as follows, “she is just a single garbage collector for the whole area, and how can she cover the whole area alone, so she comes to just one lane each day”. I asked about the feedback form and got a reply that why to complain about her, poor lady, what’s her fault. I was shocked to see that none of my neighbors cared enough for this serious issue. However, I couldn’t take it and took the responsibility of filling the feedback form. With the help of a Tamilian neighbor, I quickly mugged up the translations of the heading of the columns given in the form. I kept complaining about the few visits of the garbage collector without fail. I also refused to give the monthly charges collected by the authorities for this useless service.
Finally, one day, I heard the garbage collector’s whistle early in the morning. This was not unusual for me as I could hear the whistle only after a week and there was no fixed time for her to come. I took out the dustbin with rubbing eyes and to my over pleasant surprise, I saw a new lady collecting the garbage very efficiently. I couldn’t resist thanking God when I asked the new lady in English whether she would be coming everyday and she replied in Hindi, ‘haan ab main aaungi roz’. Those who don’t belong to Chennai won’t understand how soothing it is to hear someone speaking in Hindi in Chennai.
But when I peeked out of my gate, and had a look at her garbage cart, I couldn’t believe my eyes. There was a veil tied to the two corners of the cart full of garbage. I stepped a little forward to prove my sleepy eyes wrong. But to my disbelief, it was a baby inside the veil.
The whole episode of me fighting with my daughter’s school authority to stop them from exposing her to the germs in their washroom was in front of me in a flash of seconds. The baby was crying and her mother picked her up with millions of germs in her hand. I almost choked in that moment. Laxmi came everyday with Bhagya lying in the same veil made as a swing attached to the garbage cart. She collected garbage every single morning without complaining about how big the area was or how small her baby was. Bhagya is now 7 months old and sits on the handle of the garbage cart, enjoying her ride with her mother. Laxmi still collects garbage very efficiently. She sometimes asks for leftover food and old toys for her daughter. I feel more than happy to do this bit for her. Laxmi and my clean premises make me hope for a better tomorrow.