This lovely hill town is divided into two sectors by the bustling market place. The Mall Road with its stately houses, large estates, thick forest cover, and clumps of quarters welcomes visitors to our town.
The army presence can be seen everywhere—the freshly painted fences and walls, the perfect brick borders of flowering plots flanking the road, troops marching past the vehicles and the neat and clean road. Not a scrap of paper, no evidence of Haldiram or Lays chips, no sparkling remnant of a candy cover—just green grass and tall trees and all that paint. That part of Ranikhet, captured with affectionate elegance and realistic detail here , remains a quiet haven for its reclusive residents.
After traversing the market,that quaint km of commerce and conviviality, its time to enter the other sector of Ranikhet. Rai estate, Jal Nigam, Ghingharikhal, Golf Course, Kalika, Naini and onto Majkhali…a 11 km stretch of winding road with haphazard construction at some places, steep valleys and ravines at other points, and plenty of movement at all times.School kids will be trudging along, bikes with 3 gel-slick youngsters will be zipping past, buses and vehicles will be beeping, braking and scraping away.
One can see the Army regiment in action, while the Jal Nigam staff sun themselves in the winter sun. Hot tea and pakodas are available at Ghingharikhal, hot Maggi and omlettes at Kalika. Terraced hill slopes dotted with new houses, old temples amidst brooding dense deodar forests, vantage points for savoring the view….its all there.
And then, there is trash.
Everywhere….on the road, the buildings, the offices, the golf course, the hill slopes. Bright foils, discarded bottles of mineral water and soft drinks, wrappers of biscuits and chocolates, thermocol plates thrown out of tourist buses, or dumped after a picnic in the forest, bottles of vodka, whisky and cheap liquor.
The sides of the road, the dry beds of monsoon streams, the golf course and its surrounding forest, the vantage points for gazing at the mighty mountains….every place has trash and more trash.
Every little Indian town has the same trash affliction, regardless of height above sea-level, location, religion, vocation, anything else. Passing vehicles throw out stuff into this universal garbage can, walkers and joggers drop stuff without missing a single step in their rhythm, and the silent forest grounds watch the trash build up.
Every summer, the forest fires devour and clear up the debris, but even the fire-fighters throw their water bottles and snack packets right there and walk away.
30 months of fuming and fretting and cursing the trash and the trash makers made no difference, except leaving me feeling ashamed and small. Daily walk thoughts swirled around the trash, with me wondering what I can do, how can I stop people from littering, and where do I start.
And then, realization happened. “ If not now, When? If not me, Who?!”
45 days ago, I stuffed an empty flour bag into my jacket, and brought back a bag full of trash from the morning walk. One bag of trash gets emptied in the golf course dump, and one bag of trash enters our trash collection. 90 bags of trash have been removed till date. Walking through the cleared patches of road and forest brings a smile on my face and resolve in my stride. The dogs have learnt to walk back without their leash, since my hands are full with the trash bags. I get quizzical, admiring and guilty looks from passing folk, and I walk on. No explanations, no speeches, no requests—plain action feels good!
Today morning at 6 am, a young marathon runner stopped and offered to help me with the trash bags. We were talking and walking towards the garbage bin, and he learnt that I was a doctor earlier, that I knit now and that I love this little town. As we emptied the stuffed bags in the bin, he smiled and said, “Kabhi sapnon mein bhi nahi socha tha, ki ek din main aap jaise asli doctor ke saath kuda utha ke phenkunga!! Shukriya!” (even in my dreams, I had never thought that one day I would meet an actual doctor and collect trash with her!! Thank you!).
As he jogged away into the mist, I picked up some more Haldiram foils and walked home. It’s a good life.