Post 23 – Day 12 ‘Say No to Plastic’ (Pt 1)

Post 23a Post 23b

I was woken from the most comfortable of sleeps by the tinkling of a small bell. It summoned me, early in the morning as the day was, to a cup of coffee waiting patiently on the verandah of my little bungalow. Several plain brown wheatmeal biscuits sat on a shallow plate in accompaniment of the coffee, and by the plate rested a neatly folded newspaper. The attendant waited to see if all was well, then satisfied as to my satisfaction, he went to the adjacent bungalow, and tinkled the bell there. So done, he placed the bell within his shirt pocket, and with that hand now free, he set forth upon a table from a serving tray a cup of either tea or coffee, the contents of the cup being too distant for me to accurately determine.

The newspaper spoke of several issues of varying consequence and importance; claims of systemic corruption against the candidates for India’s coming elections, the continued plight of New Delhi’s homeless owing to the unusually cold weather, and the fate of India’s cricket team at the hands of Australia. On page four was a creatively constructed article on the art and prevalence of the widespread habit of spitting chewing tobacco onto the streets of India’s cities. The article explained two matters of prior ignorance to me. First, I was finally enlightened as to the nature of the profusion of brown blobs I had commonly seen on the streets and back alleys of Varanasi. At the time I had put them down, rather, had explained their profusion, as the aerial excreta of birds of an unknown species flying at random overhead. House crows maybe, for there were lots of them in that city…. and they ate things most people avoided touching.

The newspaper article equally, if not more so, explained the strips of little packets of some item that I had seen commonly decorating nearly every roadside stall I had passed, either on foot or by tour car. Each packet measured about 5 x 5 centimetres square, but never once did I bother to inspect them closely. I assumed each contained an article of temporary apparel, and highly intimate in its wearing, meant for the controlling of human births. Whilst I applauded their intent, and the apparent enthusiasm with which they were being displayed, I saw no obvious success in birth control, as might be attributed to them. After all, India’s population had almost tripled in my lifetime, and was set to pass that of China’s, if in fact it had not already done so. It looked like an advertising campaign that hadn’t flown. Like many great ideas, everyone in favour, but best if someone else did it, thus negating the need for personal change. The newspaper informs me, belatedly as my new found truth to the matter was, that the packets contain chewing tobacco. These were the true source of the brown splashes of material that ornamented the streets and roads of India. My need to be more attentive to detail, and less presuming in my opinions of experiences poorly understood. and to which I had no first hand knowledge, was driven home. It was enlightenment on a diminutive scale, micro-enlightenment no less. I would no longer indict birdlife for the act, and hoped the gaining of personal wisdom of truly holistic extent could be built on such pathetic grains of understanding. As for cricket, enlightenment as to any purpose in the game, other than it gave employ to those tasked with the washing of uniforms and roused hostilities between sovereign states, continued to elude me. And what’s with this thing displayed by bowlers of rubbing the cricket ball on their crotch? There’s a whole range of germicidal creams available for skin itch, and rubbing it with a cricket ball, or any other object for that matter, will prove no cure. If anything it will just inflame the condition. Cricket, without recourse to matters of dermatology, was sufficiently adept at inflaming the passions of participating countries. There was no reason to rub.

I could see that my line of reasoning was winding merrily away from my theme of the day, so I dismissed the world of sport from my mind, and focused instead on deciding whether or not I should prolong the dunking of my second biscuit. Too late, distracted by the thought of crotch itch, I dunked overly long, the soggy mass of my wheatmeal biscuit falling free into the cup. Was this metaphor?


Yesterday, by the shores of the Bay of Bengal I, with many others, boarded the MV Oceanus, for my journey by boat to the ‘Sunderbans Tiger Camp’, located on Dayapur Island. Passengers and supplies of food and bottled water securely on board, we sailed for the better part of an hour towards our destination, passing restive scenes of thatched-roofed villages and numerous water craft plying the mangrove-lined river. The majority of the river craft were wooden-built boats with distinctively pointed prows and sterns, and each prominently flew the orange, white and green horizontal striped Indian national flag. On the stern of each boat were perched rectangular buildings of functional necessity, the size and shape of these aquatic outhouses reminiscent of the terrestrial ‘dunnies’ of rural Australia. Was this yet another example of Australian innovative design, just like our advances in alternative energy technology and rotary car engines, finding more ready acceptance on a foreign shore? As contrast to these river craft of constant design were occasional tramp steamers, these carrying cement, I was informed, either to or from Bangladesh. The colour of one of these in particular, the MV Eshra Mahmud 2, took my attention for its hull was painted a becoming pale green-blue. The ship passed slowly by, its speed less than that of ours, off to wherever it was going, or returning from wherever it had been. I waved, but the crew did not recognise me.

Before reaching the tiger camp the MV Oceanus detoured to the Sunderbans Mangrove Information Centre, a family of macaque monkeys foraging there on the exposed mudflats as we descended from the boat’s gangplank to the Centre’s jetty. The monkeys were unperturbed by our presence, being preoccupied with gleaning small invertebrates from the mud. At the entrance to the information centre was a large green and rust-red coloured sign, so taken by its text was I that I felt obliged to copy down the exact wording, in full, punctuation included:

“Sunderban Tiger Reserve: a mangrove Tiger kingdom.

Sunderban is unique largest mangrove ECO-system of the world and has the honour of being A World Heritage site and Biosphere Reserve, you can make your visit more enjoyable and help in the conservation by observing the following:

Boat/launch entry prohibited without silencer.
Do not carry any polythene bag.
Don’t pollute the pristine habitat by throwing anything out from boat/launch.
Don’t play any sound system including loud speakers or shouting as it disturbs wildlife and co-visitors, thumb rule is that no sound should go out of water craft.
Do not enter in Tiger Reserve without valid permit which can be obtained from Sunderban Tiger Reserve’s offices at Canning, Sonakhali, Sajnerkhali, Bagna.
Staying within Tiger Reserve is permitted only from Sunrise to Sunset.
Hunting, fishing, damage to flora and habitat, entry in Core Area and movement in Un-permitted forest locations viewed as serious offence.

Any violation of law including above listed rules may attract relevant sections of Wild Life (Protection) Act – 1972, India Forest Act 1927 and orders of Pollution Control Board leading to fine up to Rs – 25,000 and/or imprisonment up to seven years.”

Apart from the fact that the laws of physics made Directive 4 a little difficult to carry out, and I wasn’t exactly sure what they meant by boat entry being dependent upon the possession of a silencer, the definition of the said item of intent being ambiguous, everyone appeared to be most fastidious in their following of the rules. But it was the directive ‘not to carry any plastic bags’ that most struck me, for I suddenly realised that in this environment, here, there was an absence of it; no plastic of any description, not just polythene bags. ‘Say no to Plastic’ was a theme pursued with keen pride in the Sunderbans. However, I also had to applaud their spelling of ‘honour’ with a ‘u’, not the Americanised ‘honor’ sans the ‘u’. In the world of a defunct British Empire, and a British Commonwealth fast approaching redundancy, such little matters of proper English spelling are important, if only to the English, minority as they now are when compared to the burgeoning trans-world cultural empire of the United States of America.

We stayed at the mangrove information centre until 5 pm, though I could not fathom the reason for painting the base of each tree there with broad white and green bands. Surely each tree was obvious enough, of sufficient size such that visitors would not, unseeing, collide with them. Nevertheless, I thought the visitor interpretation displays well designed and the education of their target audience well conceived. I continued to enjoy the macaques by the shore, though they were now aggressively touting the tourists for food handouts and were attempting to board one of the moored tour vessels in hot pursuit of a free meal. A besieged crew member was trying to ward off their assaults with a broom, but with limited success, several passengers continuing to encourage the monkeys despite the protestations of the captain and the broom-wielding crewman. It was then that I met an interesting Indian gentleman, he and his family being on a short holiday from Kolkata. The gentleman and I discussed cricket, me with veiled contempt for the game, he with unbridled enthusiasm. He was incredulous as to my sacrilege, bordering on that of the act of a traitor to my country, of not following the game. I intimated that a childhood friend, happily minding his own business during lunchtime recess, had been wantonly attacked by a malicious cricket ball at primary school, and had lost a perfectly good front tooth and a good deal of deep red coloured blood as a result. My tale drew no sympathy from him, though we did not come to blows in our opposing view of the sport. In fact we hummed a music tune of shared enjoyment as we parted; something from an episode of ‘Monty Python’ I recall. See, be it the Republic of India, or the Commonwealth of Australia, those British have left an indelible mark on our respective cultures, surreptitious as its influence might at times be.

On to the camp, by boat, for a performance by a tribal dance troupe at 6 pm, and the evening meal served at 8. I had planned to go spot-lighting for wildlife in the mangroves by the camp boat jetty, but was overly tired, so I retreated to bed. I would go there tomorrow night. The Sunderbans Tiger Camp was to prove my second-most favourite of the 3-star Indian hostelries I stayed at, not least because it gave ready access to natural habitats and to a village close by. It featured tree and shrub-lined walk-ways, its cobbled brick paths ornamented by small red clay garden pots, each one home to a well tended flowering annual something akin to a chrysanthemum, each flower of diverse hue. Amongst this setting was a field studies centre well stocked with wildlife identification books, and though several hardbound titles drew my interest, the little glass-fronted library was padlocked. We were individually assigned to small thatch-roofed bungalows, on the exterior walls of which were painted stylised pictographs of animals and riders atop horses, the pictographs in a tribal style unfamiliar to me. Within the shrubbery flew small birds of generally unknown kind, only the sparrow-sized yellow, black and white ‘Common iora’ Aegithina tiphia being familiar to me. As things would transpire, these were the only wildlife I would get really close to; ‘fortunately’ as my visit to the Sunderbans was to turn out.


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