This afternoon at Saraswati's. Wonderful food and equally good company.
Another chilly morning - a milky mist hanging over Ashok Nagar that dampens all but the sounds closest to the house. Only the dullest of noises rise from street level. I am up before 8.00 but sluggish like the morning. In fact looking down the street from the balcony I am struck by how empty of people the view is like all have been infected by the gloom and their exit from inside stalled somehow. It seems as though there are three distinct shifts most mornings, one very early – before dawn – those going to work like Prakash, then a little later but still early the swarms of children going to school and finally the slow waking up of those who remain in or within the vicinity of their homes. The latter process is a gradual one that takes place right into late morning and would seem to be characterised by a movement marked by activities that become increasingly public and present on the street.
Suvidya arrives at around 9.45 encountering me as I struggle with sending messages and responding to emails, hindered by a wireless connection that keeps flickering on and off. I mark my irritation and remind myself how amazing it is even to have this given the contrasting picture that Suvidya’s presence brings to mind, of a single room dwelling with not even running water or a regular electricity supply. I chat with Suvidya about plans for the morning. In a short while we venture out together to get some necessary shopping. As we walk back we meet Shiv who returns for a cup of tea and confirms arrangements for our visit to Saraswati’s this afternoon.
India is renowned at least to anyone who has visited for its poor management of waste, particularly since the small goods market has been flooded by cheap plastic objects and containers in recent decades, which of course as we know does not degrade.
During an earlier visit I recall remarking how I thought that the population of Delhi had become the world leaders in recycling, not through ecological awareness but rather through the needs arising from widespread poverty. Consequently such conditions that apply necessitate reusing any scrap of material that people can find for any number of secondary purposes. This seemed to offer a system – at least in theory – that meant that whilst piles of rubbish were still very present and closer to peoples homes than would ever now be accepted in the western world, these would be picked over and over until potentially little would be left. Granted that theoretically the problem with this is that before the cycle can be fully completed at least the same amount of fresh rubbish will have been deposited on the same site. The people who maintain this recycling activity are known as 'trash pickers'. Around 300,000 of Delhi’s inhabitants make a living retrieving recyclable trash, collecting 1,000 tons of waste on a daily basis. While trash-picking is treated as one of the most lowly occupations in urban India, trash-pickers are also responsible for recycling nearly 20% of Delhi’s trash, which would otherwise go to landfills.
With this in mind I was still nonetheless shocked to discover where the rubbish from this house and a few adjoining properties go. This came about when Prakashs’ mother spotted a bag of rubbish at the top of the stairs. I had intended to ask about what happens with refuse later in the day. She has no English at all and I no Hindi but what I could ascertain from the manner in which she spoke and her gestures indicated that I should take the said bag up to the roof. I was puzzled and shrugged, simply saying ‘nae Hindi’. Later I ask Prakash about the rubbish and mention the interaction with his Mother. Prakash says he will show me and leads me up the stairs above the flat. We go to the edge of the flat roof – the back of the property. Looking over the edge is a house sized plot between properties filled with rubbish. Prakash says nonchalantly, this is where the rubbish goes. When I react to this Prakash tells me that it has been this way for the last two to three years. I surmise that the rubbish must be a good metre or more deep – the area roughly 20 metres by 8 to10 - and wonder at the level of disease and rodent problems this is likely give rise to. In no way am I saying this to criticise Prakashs’ attitude, nor that of his family but rather just to highlight a different cultural attitude that leads in this case to a situation where the walls of family homes are literally the containers for amounts of refuse in quantity not far short of a small landfill site in the UK. Noticing more thereafter the piles of rubbish in the area and on the journey to Shanti Nagar I wonder in my mind when it will be that India is swallowed up by its waste. With growing development and consumption in India, it is estimated that Delhi will generate 20,000 tons of waste daily by 2020. The whole episode reminds me of being on a train to Guwahati earlier in the year and asking a man where I should dispose of the remains of my foil tray meal. Frowning he takes the tray from my hand and throws it out the window, as if to do anything else would offend the sensibilities of the whole travelling population of India or any god overseeing the handling of such small things.