It’s bothering me. One simple orange crisp packet. It’s nestling under a railing, stuck there between the white rail and the green wooden boards of the deck of a boat.
We are heading towards Elephanta Island, about an hour and a half’s journey from Mumbai. There’s a family opposite us, mum and dad, a set of grandparents, and two children, a girl of about eight and a boy of about two.
The children have been happily sharing a packet of crisps. I don’t think much more of it. The mum peels a small orange and they share it out. Without a thought (and without a care as to who might notice) throws the peel over the side of the boat. Although it is not something that I would do, I reason that, ok, it’s biodegradable and my mind wanders to other things.
There are dozens of commercial boats moored off the city’s coast. It’s an industrial stretch of coastline in the hazy distance. The boat is noisy and makes a slow plodding progress towards the island.
I can’t help noticing bits of rubbish floating in the sea. It’s perhaps not as bad as I thought it might be, but still you get the occasional area where it is huddled together, presumably herded by some underwater current, and it becomes more obvious.
The girl is doing as her mother does. She picks off little bits of pith and throws it over the side. Then I see her tearing up a piece of white paper and sprinkling it over the side like confetti.
Paper, I think. At least it is not plastic.
The mum tries to throw a piece of paper overboard but it is light enough to be lifted by the wind straight back at her and back on the boat. She sort of shrugs her shoulders.
And then I spot the crisp packet. It is sitting there under the railing. It is the one that the kids were holding a short time before.
I am willing it to stay where it is or to be carried by the wind further on to the deck. I will pick it up myself if it heads my way.
A passing boat causes a bit of wash and spray comes up. The only person to get wet is the mother in her blue sari. She laughs it off but her seat is wet and she comes and sits next to me, with her sleepy younger child dozing off on her shoulder.
Karma, I think.
And then I notice that the crisp packet is not there any more. I shift position to see if it is on the deck but I can’t see it. I am quite perturbed that it has unnecessarily gone into the ocean.
I want to say something. I want to nudge the grandfather, who was next to me earlier, to say ‘Please teach your grandchildren not to throw litter in the sea.’
I think about conversation starters, how I can start talking to him and bring it up. He may not even speak enough English.
How do I say something without sounding patronising or offensive? In India, you can be sure that it would attract the attention of all the other people on deck.
What would you do?
The signs, as you walk from the boat up the hill, read ‘Keep your Elephanta clean’. There is rubbish everywhere, over on a sad small beach area, down the side of the food, drinks and souvenir, stalls, along the rocks at the side of the jetty, derelict boats, a large cow with its head in the bin which it pulls over leaving contents to spill out.
At the top of the hill is the World Heritage Site of Elephanta Caves. It’s a beautiful area of ancient rock temples, now inhabited by monkeys.
Security guards and members of staff sit lazily in the heat. Near one, I make a point of picking up two large plastic bottles from the ground and put them in the bin, almost in front of his nose.
We see several monkeys carrying plastic drinks bottles, which they steal from tourists. You can’t blame them for learning that they can get a nice drink of water. Maybe they are acquiring a taste for Pepsi.
One young monkey, scraping around in the rubbish pile, is chewing on a piece of plastic.
We reckon you could teach the monkeys to return the empty bottles to the many rubbish bins before you could teach many of the ignorant humans.
*In other news, the caves are well worth a visit!