Anamika was sitting in the class listening with rapt attention to her science teacher Mrs. Sujata Mishra.
Anamika was a class six student of Modern School. Her pet subject was science and Sujata ma’am was her favorite teacher.
“We Indians have been worshipping nature since the very beginning. Trees, rivers, mountains and even animals have been treated by us as sacred. However, in the recent past we have started taking nature for granted. In the name of progress and convenience we are damaging the environment. Let me give you one example.”
As the children reached out for their pens and notebooks Sujata ma’am said, “No, children you don’t have to write anything, first listen. One of most harmful substances which all of us use in our daily lives is plastic. Can you give me one example of the use of plastic?”
“Carry-bags ma’am,” shouted Nagesh.
“Excellent. We use plastic carry-bags for carrying fruits, vegetables, groceries and everything imaginable. You know why these plastic bags are so dangerous?”
Everyone shook their heads.
“It is because they are not bio-degradable.”
“What is bio-dedragable ma’am?” asked Pradeep, the doubting Thomas of the class.
“Not dedragable Pradeep- degradable. And bio-degradable means something which gets decomposed. Now plastic doesn’t decompose, it doesn’t become one with the soil. It stays as it is.”
“But why should that create a problem ma’am?” it was Pradeep again.
“Can anyone answer him?” asked Sujata ma’am.
“If plastic stays in the soil it will block the pores of the soil. Water will not flow. And if water doesn’t flow then from where will the roots of the plants and trees get their nourishment? And if the roots do not get nourishment the plants and trees will wither away,” answered Mrinalini, Anamika’s best friend and the class topper.
“Excellent. Mrinalini is right. The plastic bags are a great threat to nature. Moreover these bags clog and jam drains and other outlets. As a result the entire sewerage system in the city gets badly affected?”
“Ma’am can we not burn these bags?” asked Anamika.
“Good question. We can’t burn them because when plastic burns it releases toxic gases.”
“Ma’am, I remember reading somewhere that the colored carry-bags are worse,” Mrinalini said.
“Yes. Because the coloring agents used for coloring them contain pigments which are harmful. Suppose your are carrying slices of water melon in a carry bag, the pigment will easily seep into the fruit and when you eat the watermelon it will harm your body. Now tell me which is the most useful domestic animal?”
“The cow,” there was a chorus.
“Yes. The cows which often search for food in the dustbins end up swallowing the plastic bags. These bags choke our most useful friends to death.”
On the way home Anamika kept thinking about her ma’am’s words.
In the evening Anamika went on her cycle for attending Maths tuition. On the way back it was her job to stop and pick up fruits from Salim chacha’s shop. Anamika’s father had always bought fruits from Salim chacha ever since she could remember. That evening, as usual she stopped in front of the shop, removed a cloth bag from her shopping basket and walked up to it.
Salim chacha, smiled and asked her, “Anamika beti, I have a fresh stock of oranges would you like a kilo?”
“I’ll take half a kilo and six bananas as usual.”
As Salim chacha reached for the plastic carry bag, Anamika said, “No chacha. Not in the carry bag. I have brought this cloth bag for carrying fruits.”
“Why beti, any special reason?”
“Plastic is very bad for nature and for all of us.”
“How?” Salim chacha asked, an indulgent smile on his face.
Anamika then explained as best as she could what Sujata ma’am had told them about plastic in the class.
Salim chacha heard in silence. “I had no idea that this harmless looking plastic carry bag can be so dangerous. But beti what difference can you alone make?”
Anamika thought for sometime and said, “Chacha I’ll tell you small story which my father told me last week.
Once a grandfather was walking along with his grandson on the beach. The beach was littered with many fish which had come in with the tide and were now struggling in the sands. The grandson picked up one fish and gently tossed it into the water. Then he picked up another one and did the same.
‘There are hundreds of fish lying on the beach. It is not going to make any difference even if you save one or two?’ the grandfather said.
The grandson bent down and picking up a little fish tossed into the water. ‘Grandpa, it made a difference at least to this one,’ he said as he watched the fish sail away, a smile on his face.
With these words Anamika picked up her bag and cycled away, leaving Salim chacha staring at her.
Two days later when she went to his shop he was busy talking to a lady. He hadn’t noticed Anamika.
“Maaji, I have stopped keeping carry bags. They are very harmful. I’ll give the fruits to you in a paper bag.”
He then noticed Anamika and smiled. “Beti, what you told me that day made a deep impression on me. I have decided I will never again use plastic carry bags. My son manages another shop in Basanti Nagar. I have also told him not to use them. I am requesting my regular customers to carry cloth bags with them when they come shopping for fruits,” Salim chacha said, his face beaming.
“Salim chacha that is wonderful. Thank you, I am so proud of you.”
“Beti, I should thank you. You taught me two things. One to take care of the environment and ...” he stopped and looked at Anamika.”
“And what chacha?”
“I learnt that even one can make a difference,” chacha said.