In July, my husband and I took our first trip to Kerala. The greenest of green environs at Kollam captivated us at the outset. Mangroves and palm trees formed beautiful reflections on the glass-like surface of the backwaters of Munroe Island.
The panoramic views of Thangassery port town from the Quillon lighthouse, the walk across the expansive fishing harbour line on the Laccadive Sea, the cultural tour through rubber plantations and the trek in the Sankhili forests gave us an abundant dose of the colour green. By the end of our visit, a cursory brown patch on the roadside seemed an eyesore.
That’s when it struck me – we had not seen any plastic bag, litter, dirt, or a smelly, waste dump in five days at Kollam – anywhere.
Not only uninhabited areas such as the virgin forests but also the inhabited places were spotless. Footpaths, markets, backwaters, bridges (commercial-hubs), crammed coastal villages, and vacant areas around houses, all were litter- and plastic-free. I counted only five pieces of solid waste on the entire tour — the kind of cleanliness I have seen only in my international trips to the stunning Maldives and Thailand’s Krabi province.
Kollam is fourth on the May 2016 World Health Organisation list of Indian cities with the ‘cleanest air.’ Not surprised.
I remember an incident distinctly. During our dinner inside a houseboat after sundown, the man serving us excused himself and walked to the end of the boat to have a smoke. When he finished, he put the tiny, residual cigarette butt in his pocket in a natural motion and resumed serving us.
As effortless as tossing that waste into water could be, at night especially, when it’s dark and there’s no one to check you, he chose not to do it. It was a small but remarkable action, which came from inherent self-discipline and a deep sense of culture.
During my walks together with father in my school days, I have seen my father pick up stray pieces of polythene or paper on the road and deposit it in the nearest dustbin on the way. He didn’t just teach us cleanliness, he demonstrated it.
India is blessed with scenic mountains, waterfalls, lakes, and forests. How does one enjoy the beauty, if these places are not kept clean? Besides aesthetics, a clean environment is necessary for good health. The people of Kollam and its city municipality have understood this, and successfully instilled greenery and preservation in their way of life. A living example of ‘cleanliness is next to Godliness’ indeed, which is why Kerala deserves to be called ‘God’s Own Country’.
I have taken a pledge. On every camping trip to the mountains and the forests, I will carry a big, cloth bag to collect dry waste such as plastic bottles and packs that I see during the trek. Nature has always given me so much. This will be my small way of giving something back to it. Thank you, Kollam, for stimulating this spirit in me.
This article was published at Hindustan Times.