As another February (and another winter) has ended, and everyone gears up for spring, and in some cases, an extended summer, one is compelled to think of the things that actually matter.
In West Bengal, for instance, you don’t need to be a Game of Thrones fan to know that “winter is here”. It starts off with the sighting of a stray sweater here and a lone monkey tupi (monkey cap) there, and before you know it, you are lost in a sea of sweaters, half-sweaters and shawls, trying to navigate your way through the biting cold.
In this cold, cold season, nothing unites the Bong more than the unrestrained love for three things—quick getaways, wedding invitations and picnics. You will find the average Bengali family, clutching their luggage, thronging bus stands and railway-stations, waiting to be whisked off to Darjeeling, or the Dooars, or even Sikkim and Jharkhand. You will find marriage halls and cheap lodges all decked up in flowers, thronging with caterers, bandwalas and relatives, and various renditions of the shehnai being performed at ear-splitting volume. But nothing, I repeat, nothing comes close to bringing out the fun-loving adventurer in a Bangali more than the picnic.
Let us not be fooled by its simple name. The Picnic is an art, which must be taken seriously. Organizing a picnic takes weeks or months of cajoling, haranguing for financial support, bargaining with taxi/tempo/truck operators and caterers, and so on. And once December sets in, the season starts, and continues with a vengeance right till the beginning of March.
You find families or large groups milling all over West Bengal, crowding any vacant spot that can give you a background fit for social media and lift the general mejaaj (spirits). Loudspeakers are set up, blasting the latest dance hits, meals are cooked in large pots fit enough to feed an army, and you cannot walk a few steps without stumbling over the next TikTok sensation or the flurry of Whatsapp DPs being clicked. Whether it is on the banks of the Teesta and the Murti rivers in north Bengal, or Gadiara, Bishnupur and Gangani in south Bengal, the Bong picnic becomes as ubiquitous to the landscape as a Virat Kohli century in one-day cricket.
That all said, unfortunately, picnics also generate a lot of waste, and waste disposal at picnics serves as a crash course in indifference and procrastination. Paper plates, food packets, plastic straws, used newspapers—the list of items littering the landscape is long. People come to these scenic spots, have their share of fun, and then leave—without bothering to think of how to dispose of the massive amount of waste generated. Dustbins are provided by the administration at all designated tourist posts for picnickers to leave their waste in, but what about other spots? No one, for instance, would think of providing dustbins near a river bed, right?
Don’t get me wrong. I am not talking about picnics organized by small families, or even by groups of up to ten people. But you will find larger groups going for picnics: people who think waste disposal is a problem not worth caring about. And seriously, who can blame them?
We are totally indifferent to waste disposal in our cities and towns. We don’t think twice before throwing our empty packets of chips and biscuits in drains or on roads. Our trains are dirty, because we think nothing about eating and then dropping food and/or empty packets on the floor. Every time a large ground is used for conducting a political rally or for organizing a concert, anyone can see the sorry state of affairs the next day, with plastic packets lying here and there. The country has a waste disposal problem, and it seems we are all okay with this.
If littering is an art, we have become its torch-bearing Picassos and Rembrandts.
Like every other administrative parent, the administration keeps trying out new measures to curb this problem. While the tourism department keeps stressing on the importance of waste disposal to save the environment, the district administrations, in collaboration with the local police, frequently carry out raids to dissuade everyone. The local media also tries its best to increase its coverage of this general apathy.
I’ve lost count of the number of times Uttarbanga Sambad, the most widely-read newspaper in north Bengal, has carried stories about how a particular tourist spot is fast losing its sheen, thanks to the burgeoning number of picnics being organized, without a care for the environment. But all this age amounts to nothing, if society can’t change its behaviour.
The administration represents us—how proactive it wants to be is reflected in the level of support society shows towards it.
We all need our escape from the drudgery of daily life. Organizing a picnic is a welcome distraction for most people in such cases. However, our indifference to our surroundings is literally killing us in more ways than one.
We keep talking about saving the environment, we keep using hashtags and uploading photos of our presence at any event held to raise awareness for the environment. Yet, somehow, our collective wokeness about climate change and pollution somehow goes out of the window while enjoying our picnics. And so our riverbeds get dirtier, scenic tourist spots become giant billboards for empty plastic packets, and we keep blaming the administration for not doing anything, when the truth is that we don’t want to admit anything.
We’ve made a habit out of luxuriating in our own filth. So, we really shouldn’t have any complaints the next time we find our beloved picnic spots dirtier than when we left them, no? As much as this might make you feel uncomfortable, the picture is certainly bleak. Oh, what’s your plan for the picnic?
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When he’s not busy watching old cricket matches and reaction videos on Youtube, or marvelling at how bad screenplays in Hindi cinema can get, this guy teaches English literature at a university in West Bengal, besides taking an interest in Indian cinema, popular culture and global media industries. Rony also reviews movies and shows for LetsOTT. He can be reached at email@example.com, on Twitter at @ronypatra, and on Instagram at @rony.writer.