The irony of garbage

India is in dire need of common sense and garbage bins but expecting both at the same time is too much to ask for.

My colleague-friend (it’s tad laziness to call everyone a friend nowadays, especially those you happen to meet only within the contours of your professional space; people you’ve never made an effort to spend time with over a weekend) visited Meghalaya recently on a 2-week trip. It was Rohit’s first tryst with north-east India and he is genuinely glad that he popped his proverbial cherry with a state we associate heavy rains with. Turns out there’s much more to it than Cherrapunji and Mawsynram.

This was his longest solo trip so far and there was a healthy mix of anxiety as well as thrill in his stories. He chose this particular state because he read somewhere that the curse of modernity is yet to grasp the Seven Sisters but if you’re going to explore, start in the middle than at the edge. His next target is to cover at least 2 more states over a month. After talking with this young tourist in his first job, for over an hour, i made some pointers from his visit.

  • Majority of the Meghalayans he met were of Khasi origin and spoke Khasi and were extremely friendly to mainlanders like himself. He shared an incident in a bus on how almost everybody knows everybody and the lady with the flower basket sitting in the furthest seat was talking to a lady sitting on the second seat. The whole vehicle felt like a family which was on its way to a wedding and were busy gossiping about the groom. On top of that, the bus smelt really nice for a desi public transport.
  • More than two people asked him why do Delhiwalas call them ‘chinky’ (a term deferring to Chinese affiliation) when they are as Indian as others. Our hero didn’t have an answer for that but conceded that Delhi has a bad reputation although he himself hails from the same city.
  • Khasi kids are heavily influenced by Korean pop culture and Japanese discipline. He noticed how school kids were keen on picking up thrash lying on the street as if it was homework.
  • Pork-rice is to be found everywhere, almost a staple diet. Apparently, dirt cheap food but expensive travels. Your bargaining skills will decide the cost though. Topographic constraints ensure a cab carry 5 passenger in the backseat and 3 in the front.
  • Khasi folks are high on paan (betel leaf preparation) which they call kwai and keep offering to each other. Just like rural Maharashtrians are big on tobacco.
  • Mulberry trees are everywhere and so are mulberry-flavoured ice creams. Litchi juice, too.
  • Christianity is the present as well as the future with local first names almost going out of the picture. Even in villages, kids are more likely to have Abrahamic names followed by tribal surnames.
  • He was surprised to see Malayalis running a church and an adjacent school. Similarly, Marwaris and Punjabi Sikhs have flourishing businesses in Shillong. Priorities.
  • Despite modern advents, the villages continue to remain simple and united. People pay attention to small joys in life and storytelling is appreciated. In one village, where Rohit was staying overnight in a hut, Rohit was offered a wooden chair by an elderly lady after dinner and then she pointed to the full moon. Yes, that’s your entertainment, boy!
  • In Cherrapunji and Mausynram, people have houses that are all terraced because during heavy downpour, the entire family shifts vertically as ground floor is mercilessly flooded.
  • Contrary to general practice, people avoid traveling on weekends. Some say it’s because of sabbath whereas others point to some tribal clashes in the past. Regardless, tourists are found in the markets on Sat/Sunday instead of the locals.
  • He visited a village that falls on the Indo-Bangladesh border and found that locals don’t care about imaginary lines. Almost every second village has a living bridge; bridges made of banyan trees.
  • As he moved away from Shillong, the capital city, he could see how the locals are in sync with nature and love their environs, to the extent that they care about keeping things pollution-free because it’s their home. Perhaps it’s the city that makes one apathetic to the surrounding.

The most striking thing, to me, is how Meghalaya has garbage bins everywhere. In Indian cities, even those who want to help keep the public premise clean give up because there aren’t adequate bins around. So, people often end up littering. In Meghalaya, even villages reportedly have garbage bins. And if that’s not awesome enough, they are made up of bamboos. Which makes so much sense if you think about it for a second. How are we ever going to defeat plastic by having garbage bins made up of plastic?

I had my initial intervention with north-east India during my hostel days. Students from Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Mizoram and Nagaland gave me my first peek into what NE was all about. These kids were more than 3000 miles away—3+ days on train, followed by hilly bus rides—from their homes, hoping to earn an engineering degree, and eventually become a part of metropolitan India. The thing common to all of them was they were short, industrious, practical and socially reserved. My room-mate, Neiphrezo, belonged to Angami tribe from Dimapur, and struggled with Hindi throughout his time in Nashik. To compliment, he’d say “Tum bohot pyaar hai!” No matter how many times we rectified him, he always missed pyaara.

Pyaar, actually.

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