“Even in the mud and scum of things, something always, always sings.”
We are lucky to have a little patch of green attached to our apartment block in the bustling and crowded part of South Kolkata. Across the boundary wall beyond this patch, is a largish pond surrounded by trees including an old and very large Gulmohar tree (Flame of the Forest) right in front of our place. Come summer, these trees are visited by all sorts of birds including kingfishers, woodpeckers, parrots, bulbuls, and even kites. And of course the crows. Baba loves the crows as much as the other birds; in fact, he finds their character and constitution decidedly more interesting than the other species. Our little green patch thus benefits from the nearby pond and trees and provides baba and ma with much entertainment as they sit on the balcony, sipping their afternoon Darjeeling.
The balcony is the life of our house. It connects us to Nature. The cool wind and the rustling of the leaves never ceases, even on a hot summer’s day. There is only one problem. The denizens of the apartment have a habit of throwing their litter out of their balcony onto this patch of green – cigarette butts, discarded flowers wrapped in polythene from the daily morning holy rituals, Lays packets, and occasionally, yes, discarded sanitary napkins.
Ma woke up one morning to find baba cleaning the green patch. He had put on his bright yellow gloves and much-worn hat and was patiently picking up the litter. He found a stick, and to my mom’s utter dismay, started pushing a sanitary napkin towards a corner of the patch. He seemed to enjoy the cleaning process and soon, within the hour, the leaves were collected and piled around the base of the trunks of trees, while the litter was collected and heaped into a neat pile by the side. He continued doing this every other day. Soon, people started poking their heads over their balconies, watching a frail old man clean up their rubbish.
And soon enough, the littering stopped.
I skyped with Ma today just to verify this out of curiosity. My call connected. She was out on the balcony doing her breathing exercises. I could hear a bulbul singing in the background; the spring leaves were a lovely shade of green and the first blush of spring could be seen on the trees behind her. Baba was sound asleep. She tells me a mali (gardener) has been hired by the building committee and all is well.
I feel there is some message tucked away here. Baba was not quietly voicing his protest. He was merely clearing up the lawn so that he could enjoy the little patch of green. Somewhere along the way, he changed a few things.