Extraordinary in the ordinary

When someone else cleans up our mess

What if no staff was commissioned to collect waste from our societies and commercial establishments?
Published at Hindustan Times.

On my way to work, I often cross the BMC’s (Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation) bright green truck collecting garbage from designated points. There are four such points through my 2 km route in Mumbai’s coastal suburb of Bandra. Usually three to four staffers load the garbage onto the truck, sometimes collecting with bare hands, and at better times, equipped with plastic gloves and boots. With ‘Clean up’ painted in big black letters on the truck’s body, I see this vehicle as a positive symbol of city life, making way for a hygienic day ahead.

This morning, I was amused to see certain behavior.

The staffers were working, busy dragging big dustbins closer to the stationery truck, upturning and emptying them into the back. A group of people walked ahead of me. As they crossed the truck, they began to make frustrated sounds while sinking their noses into their elbows or cupping their hands over their faces. Two members of the group scowled at the staffers. Almost blaming them for creating a smell in the area.

Weren’t the staffers doing their job, and that too efficiently without blocking anyone’s way? Aren’t these staffers making our city, our environment, livable? Aren’t we, the recipients of the garbage disposal service the generators of that garbage? What if the garbage collection truck didn’t come for two consecutive days? What if no staff was commissioned to collect waste from our societies and commercial establishments?

Do we recognize the work of these staffers? Do we call the staffers by their names instead of casually referring to them as ‘kachra wala’ or ‘kachre wali’? Is it difficult to bear few seconds of foul smell without scowling? Wouldn’t that make the staffers less conscious of the difficult environment they have to operate in for hours together, every day, to make a living?

Later in the day, I sat down thinking why they did what they did. The thoughtless scowl. The ill-targeted disgust.

I believe a part of this apathy towards garbage collection workers comes from the fact that as a society, historically, we’ve always had someone else to do things for us, someone else to clean up our mess, someone else to fix things for us. How many of us do our own work at our homes? To start with, do we make our own beds? Or keep our plate back in the kitchen after eating? Or scrub the floor clean after accidentally dropping something without expecting someone else to do it for us? Or clean our toilets post use? Or wash our own innerwear? There can be a long list of such fairly obvious and spontaneous actions.

When we step out of our homes, the apathy often manifests itself in disrespectful behavior. The moment we check into a hotel or visit a restaurant, we assume that the housekeeping staff and waiters are our servants.

Collectively, as receivers of service in society, we need to show way more empathy and sensitivity. Dignity of labor stems from our mindset.

Tomorrow morning, when I cross the bright green truck, I will show a cheerful thumbs up and shout a big ‘thank you’ to the staffers. They’re as integral a part of the social fabric as any other service provider.

This article was published at Hindustan Times.

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