100 Days in India Project

A small monkey picks through the littler in an alleyway in Varanasi, India.

23/ 100 Rubbish

Littering is taken to a whole new level in India. There are barely any rubbish bins in public places and pretty much all the food and drink you buy in the streets comes with an astonishing amount of packaging. Although, having said that, you can also buy fizzy cola in nothing but a clear, and very thin, plastic bag.

My wife Fiona was being her artist / Womble self, spending much of the day walking along with her eyes trained on the floor like an owl searching for a tasty mouse. However, she left the mice alone and filled her pockets with brilliantly weird matchboxes, discarded religious ephemera, paper with anything hand-printed onto it, and anything shiny. Less interested in collecting rubbish I was left to do what I do best and analyse and overthink the rubbish situation. 

The first thing I noticed in India was that the streets ARE the litter bins. When the road sweepers came along with their hand carts and brooms there was a mad rush to chuck all the rubbish you could find out into their path. For some reason they didn’t ever just put it into the carts. Is this is perhaps because the sweepers are viewed as the lowest of the low and it is simply their place to sweep up other people’s litter?

The second thing I noticed was that the amazing abundance of animals that roamed the streets did quite a good job of reducing the litter to nothing but metals and plastic. The monkeys fought with the dogs (and each other) to get the best scraps, running high up into the rooftops with tiny fistfuls of vegetable scraps. The cattle and pigs would eat just about anything left that was even remotely edible. Sadly, in the poorer areas of the towns, very young children would also be there, picking through the waste amongst the other poor creatures.

I may write about this separately later but on our first trip to India we were staying in Agra in a fairly posh hotel. We bumped into a group of politicians and one of them started chatting to us, asking what we thought of the country. When we mentioned the amount of rubbish piled high he proclaimed that the Indian people like it this way. I’m not really sure I believe him.