The little girl stood still, her mother pushed her from behind, she came a few steps forward and stopped. She stared at the Laddus and other sweets for a brief moment, gulp down her hunger and asked again “Will you leave the fishies alone?”
In February, before the pandemic and the subsequent lock down, we organised a Saraswati Puja in our building.
For many Hindus, Vasant Panchami is the festival dedicated to goddess Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge, language, music, and power in all its form. In eastern India, it is a lovely day, one can see little girls proudly wearing Saree and Makeup and hopping from one pandal to another.
When I was a little girl, I saw this as an opportunity to impress Maa Saraswati. I used to keep my maths book at her feet in the hope that by some divine force Maa will give me the power to understand the Gibberish subject. I even religiously recited the Mantras chanted by the Pandit ji, not once peeking at the delicious laddus or thinking about the Puri and Brinjal Fry – a standard post Puja lunch menu in Bengali households.
Now, I am married, and it is my turn to prepare the lunch menu. Thanks to Maa Saraswati, who has removed maths and engineering from my life and now I am a writer. So here I was thanking her again during the Puja that was organized in our apartment. It got concluded nicely, and the ladies started collecting Prasad and flowers, leftover incense stick and matchboxes.
One of then inquired “What are we supposed to do with the flowers and prasad leftovers?”
Pandit Ji replied “The Puja is over now, let the books and flowers stay for one more day after that collect everything and throw it in the river after idol visharjan”.
“Not one thing should touch anybody’s feet or land in the garbage bin” he gave very clear instructions.
“He said throw it in the river” the instructions passed from one person to other.
“But what about the Fishuuuu? The question was from a little girl, the way she stressed on the “uuu..” it left a cute pout on her face. But the concerned lines on her forehead hinted that she was earnest with her query.
“What about them?” her mother asked
“If we throw the waste in the river, Fishies will die”
“Who told you that?” a lady standing nearby asked
“Rachna Ma’am” The little girl’s hair clip was dangling from her forehead and the red lipstick was all over her face. She was wearing a green saree that was tied from way above her waist. But her dress and falling make-up did not hinder her path to righteousness.
Her question was valid, but since the beginning of time we have allowed a fear to reside inside us and that fear is way more critical than whatever Rachna Ma’am is teaching nowadays. The name of the fear is ‘God’.
How can we throw anything that is remotely related to God in the dustbin? Who will answer to his/her wrath then? Rachna Ma’am? Well confused and embarrassed we all looked towards Pandit Ji for an answer.
His belly jumped up and down as he laughed it off “Kids these days, come take a laddu” He quipped at the girl.
Usually, children fast during Saraswati puja and after offering the prayers, they eat. So, everyone was waiting there with an empty stomach and we wanted to wrap things up and go home to eat.
“Yes, will you?” after hearing a chorus we all noticed the gang of kids standing behind her
“Nothing will happen from few flower petals, and we are not doing this daily.” Pandit Ji answered.
“Ma’am said it is pollution and fishies diee”
“Shut-up all of you” a lady shouted “Go and play” “Fishy Fishu, nonsense stop eating fish if you are so concerned. As it is, they will end up in someone’s plate, death is inevitable for them” a lady yelled
The holler was so loud that few families took this as a window of opportunity and left.
The girl dashed and hid behind her mother. With one shout the discussion ended.
We collected all the waste and kept it aside in order to dispose it off later.
A day later as instructed by pandit ji, we went to the riverbank, offered our prayers and were about to throw away the waste. The riverbank was already stinking, it was more of a dump bank. I felt the urge to vomit when I saw the garbage that had accumulated. I started looking for a clean spot so that we can throw the waste from yesterday’s Puja.
“Look there the water has washed off the waste, we can throw there” a lady amongst us pointed out.
A fisherman was standing there so we were calculating the velocity with which we can throw the garbage and not hit him.
“Let him complete his Puja” One of us noticed that he was about to begin his morning Prayer.
He started by throwing few plastic bottles, tissue papers and leftover food materials from his boat into the water, emptied his mouth filled with Gutka or Paan whatever red thing he was eating, washed his face, arms and legs with that same water. Then religiously, took some water in his palm, faced the sun and offered his prayers while slowing dropping the water back into the river. Then posed a Namaskar and recited the prayers.
I wondered what “Mukesh” would say about this, I guess the Paan, Bidi, Gutka, Cigarette Ad makers forgot to mention – Not only humans animals also suffer from cancer and other deadly diseases. So by throwing Gutka, Paan, or cigarette butts inside water bodies people are making it a living hell for those relying on natural water resources.
“Deva Deva, such a nice religious man” one of us remarked
At a distance, I could see huge fishing nets, placed inside the water. The fisherman completed his Puja and rowed his boats towards those already placed nets.
“Common let’s throw our bag now; his Puja is done, it’s getting late”
My God, who catches fish in this garbage? I recalled my visit to the Chilika Lake a few months ago, with large fishing nets at arms distance, the lake was really crying for help, the siltation was clearly visible. On one instant the boatman dropped his long bamboo to row his boat when the bamboo slightly came out of the water, we got a glimpse of grey clay-like substance dripping from the large stick. It was disgusting and sad.
Few days back I came across an article on the World Economic Forum’s website, it stated: As India grows and urbanizes, its water bodies are getting toxic. It’s estimated that around 70% of surface water in India is unfit for consumption. Every day, almost 40 million liters of wastewater enters rivers and other water bodies with only a tiny fraction adequately treated. A recent World Bank report suggests that such a release of pollution upstream lowers economic growth in downstream areas, reducing GDP growth in these regions by up to a third.
“Who will come to the rescue of our beloved mother nature?” Submerged in my own thoughts, I wondered
“It’s in your hands” I heard a voice
Did I hear God’s voice? startled,I looked around
The lady standing beside me gave a strong nudge “Arey It’s in your hands, throw it now”
I had recently moved to this building and till date had not made a single friend. All this while, I was trying to mingle with them by keeping my mouth shut and following their lead. But my subconscious was not allowing me to play along with them any longer. I was standing at a good distance from the riverbed and my nostrils were already burning with the filthy smell. It’s horrifying to think about the plight of those fishes, plants and insects who rely on natural water resources to survive. The face of that innocent girl kept popping in my mind. Rachna Ma’am had done her bit, now it was our turn.
While looking for answers, I noticed a garbage collecting truck passing nearby. Realizing that this was my only chance, I ran at a full speed and threw the waste puja materials inside the truck. The ladies gasped so loudly I was able to hear them clearly from a distance.
It was a “Darr K Aage Jeet Hai” moment for me. As the truck moved away with the load, I felt such huge relief and happiness. At least I did my bit, by standing for what is right and rational. Later for obvious reason, I had to call a cab in order to reach home and my heroic act was not at all praised and now the entire building has divided opinions about me.
Frankly speaking, I no longer care, because now at least I can face those kids and give them a proper answer. Thankfully, in our country kids are taught about pollution and how it is essential to stop it. But who will teach these God-fearing adults?
A passionate writer, who loves to pen down her thoughts/stories and enjoys as the
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