One bin at a time

It was a dull day at Srinagar Handicrafts, one of the many souvenir shops dotting Ghanta Ghar. The tourists seemed to have disappeared like the migratory birds that visited the Valley.

Zainab fervently hoped it wasn’t one of those days, when they went home without making a sale.

Ding! The wind chimes on the door sounded.

Yayyy! Tourists!

“Please visit again,” Zainab trilled, as Abba billed their purchases.

“I’m never coming back to Kashmir!” declared the boy.

“Raju!” his mother chided. “That was rude!”

“I’m so sorry,” his father said. “It’s just that I’d told him so many stories...”

“You called Kashmir Heaven on Earth,” the boy accused.

“And it was. With its beautiful chinar trees, lush green gardens and the crystal clear Dal Lake...”

“Crystal clear!” scoffed the boy. “All I saw was plastic bottles, food wrappers and all sorts of trash floating on it!”

“There was a time when the lake’s water was clean enough to drink,” Abbu sighed.


At home, Zainab was still thinking about what the boy had said.

Dal Lake was rather dirty. Why, even her teacher had said that pollution was choking it. Worry clouded her face. What if it got dirtier? What if more tourists started feeling the same way? What if they went home and told people about it? And those others decided they wouldn’t visit Kashmir at all?

How would Abbu make a living? How would Ammi manage the household? What if she had to drop out of school? She thought about the summer when curfew had been clamped and school had been shut for weeks. How terribly dull and utterly boring life had been!

No! She couldn’t — wouldn’t — let that happen! If only she could do something about it. But what?

An idea bulb popped above her head!

“Ammi, where’s the blue bucket?”

Her mother was puzzled. “You mean, the dirty old plastic mop bucket that cracked last evening?”

“That’s the one,” Zainab grinned.


Zainab was walking along the lake with her best friend Haseena.

“I can’t believe you’re carrying that to school,” Haseena grimaced. “A broken mop bucket.”

“I’m not taking it to school and I’ve mended it.” She hadn’t just fixed it; she had pasted a label on it. “USE ME”, it urged in bold sparkly capitals. She marched to the jetty and put the dustbin down.

“So, this is your plan?” asked Haseena.

Zainab nodded excitedly. “Imagine if all of us could contribute a dustbin to the city!”

“Spend money? On a dustbin?” Haseena scoffed. “You know how tough things are.”

Zainab’s face fell. The last few months had been rather difficult. Schools, offices, shops, businesses had been shut for weeks. She couldn’t expect people to spend their hard earned money on her dream project. “What if we made the dustbins?” she suggested. “Remember the Best out of Waste class?”


On their way back from school, she decided to peek into the newly placed dustbin. It was empty. But there was a banana peel lying right next to it.

“Told you it wasn’t going to work,” said Haseena. “You can place hundreds of dustbins around the city, but how will you make people throw the trash into it?”

Zainab didn’t know the answer to that. All she knew was that she had to try. That week, the tourists at Shalimar Bagh walked past shoe boxes with “USE ME” scrawled on them.

That weekend, the owners of houseboats docked at Dal Lake received willow baskets held together with duct tape that had “WASTE BIN” scribbled on them. The next week, thermocol dustbins popped up at Sri Pratap Singh Museum.

And at Pari Mahal.

And at Charminar Bagh.


One bin at a time

Later that month, Zainab and Haseena were walking along the lake.

“Aren’t you tired of making dustbins?” asked Haseena. “How long will you keep doing it?”

Zainab’s eyes drifted to the jetty, to the blue mop bucket, to the first dustbin.

She watched as a tourist slowly ambled across and tossed a crushed water bottle in it.

“As long as I can,” she replied, flashing a thousand-watt smile.

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Printable version | Sep 26, 2021 11:53:34 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/children/one-bin-at-a-time/article35293058.ece

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