Sustainability and other jokes

So a couple of days back I travelled for 6 hours in a train.

In a train coach, designed for 70-80 people, but filled with around 200 people.

Or more, possibly. I didn’t really count ;(

There never can be an “average” Indian train journey – every journey is unique. You could arrive at the train station half an hour early, only to discover that the train is an hour late. Boarding the train once it does arrive (somehow 5 hours later), you could proceed to your reserved berth, only to find an old uncle having a peaceful siesta on that very berth.

Having politely dislocated said uncle from your berth, you could now stuff your carry bag underneath your seat in the most covert position possible, so that it remains out of the sight of any thief passing by your compartment at night. And then…you could proceed to stare out of your window at the vistas passing by you at break-neck speeds. And if you’re lucky? Those vistas might be the stuff of the most breathtakingly beautiful paintings.

That, unfortunately, wasn’t the fate that awaited me and my three other companions.

Our train was 2 hours late. And upon its arrival, we discovered that our train coach was stuffed, literally stuffed with people – and to my knowledge, almost all of them belonged to the labor-class section of the society. As we later came to know, a number of trains across the country were cancelled on account of protests and trains getting set on fire, so left without an alternative, they all had turned to this one train for their journey.

Scenes from an Indian train. Even my train wasn’t this packed, Jesus Christ….

I looked at my friends, and they looked back at me.

“We’re boarding that train?”, I asked, trying to curb a scream that rose from deep within.

“We’re boarding that train,” they said, with lumps in their throats. And so we boarded the train.

It is a fundamental law of nature that two distinct physical objects cannot simultaneously occupy the same section of space-time continuum. That divine, rational law came close to being violated in that train coach. We soon discovered that each of our reserved berths were occupied by at least 5-6 people, some sitting on each other’s laps. Armpits coincided, legs intertwined. It was a literal jungle of human limbs.

“My God,” I said, as I slowly shifted my knee off of a man’s shoulder, “what will this 6-hour journey look like?”

“You will see the sun set in the distance and question all your life choices,” said one of my friends cheerily. And I did just that…

As I descended into a painful existential crisis, I noticed something even more disturbing. I saw a man throwing a half-finished packet of salted peanuts out of the window. I saw another chucking a dirty package of rice and lentils out of the window. Then a plastic water bottle. Then a glass (alcohol?) bottle, shattering into a thousand pieces as it smashed against a rock at high speed. This…never stopped.

I can admit without any hesitation, my dear reader, that I thoroughly hated this journey. It was a sickening experience. There was not one redeeming aspect of this journey. Except that I learnt something. I learnt that being Sustainable is a Privilege.

No sane human would like to stand for the entire duration of a 6-hour train journey. But in that nauseous train coach, if you stood up from your seat to put your trash in a nearby dustbin, around 10 people would rush to occupy your seat. So what would you do with the accumulated trash in your hands?

I and my 3 companions, however, are rarely in such a position. We are fortunate enough to be able to travel much more comfortably (except for this one-time tragedy). We are fortunate to be able to work in offices and homes where we can dispose of our trash conveniently.

Now that’s cute. Didn’t think I’d ever say that about dustbins…

It’s sad to see that many of us simply choose not to. Some of us litter in public places. Some of us chuck trash out of train windows. Some of us generate unreasonable amounts of plastic waste. Some of our residences don’t segregate and process waste properly, even when the necessary infrastructure exists.

I will never say that what the men on that train did was right. It certainly was not. But I see why they did it. It is the eternal dilemma that all of Civilization struggles with – social inequality. Solving this dilemma is a Herculean task. In the end, these men had neither the knowledge nor the circumstances to do the right thing.

But we do.

Sustainability cannot be a joke for us, even if it is a cruel, impossible joke for them.

Published by TheHermitVoyager

"If you would attain real freedom, you must be the slave of philosophy." - Epicurus (Jeez, talk about a killjoy)

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