Before entering the village for darshan, thousands of hindus enter the Nethravathi river to bathe and purify themselves before the hours-long wait to enter the temple. In theory this seems like a wonderful ritual, but I was completely befuddled by what I saw: the banks were shellacked with layer-upon-layer of soggy, discarded clothing. Apparently the devotees prefer to shed their wet clothes wherever suits them rather than wring them out and re-use them.
I have very few complaints about Indian Culture—it is so vastly different from my own but also mind-blowing and wonderful— but I do not comprehend India’s relationship to trash. India is a capital B Beautiful country, but it is often hard to see past the myriad heaps of litter piled along the roads and clogging the rivers. In an illogical way, I can completely deal with dirty squat-toilets, flies on food or the occasional putrid sewage smell, but when a kind lady throws her entire family’s lunch waste out of the train window onto the tracks, my decades of american litter-guilt run over.
I readily acknowledge that India doesn’t currently have the infrastructure to conduct mass waste management (and really, is gathering it up just to create acres of landfill much better?) Also- the concept of capital T Trash is relatively new: non-biodegradable materials have only existed over the last century or so, and Indians have been dealing with biodegradable waste for millennia simply by returning it to the earth.