There used to be a green pond once, next to our house. This house had a red-tiled roof and picture windows. It was situated on a hill known as the Dev Pahar in Chittagong. Through those picture windows, I could see the pond down by the valley. The pond was not too far. From the hilltop, it looked mostly surrounded by heavy moss growing on tall trees and bamboo tresses.

A great many toads sat on innumerable lily pads on the pond. They leaped sprightly in and out of the water, legs splayed, to sit back up on the lily pads. The greenery around it was spectacular, especially on a rainy day. The leaves of the forlorn bamboo shone in the rain. More so, the young intrepid shoots in the process of opening up. They trembled as the rain dribbled over. Many a summer’s rain. Raindrops also dribbled over the lily pads, where the toads would be sitting. They sang, serenading the rain. The rain responded. Then they performed a nuanced, choreographed dance, the rain and the pond together. This was a delightful duet which put a dimple on the pond. Nature woke up every time on such festive moments.

The environment was clean then, the greenery was unpolluted. The resplendent pond was named “The Green Pond” because of this freshness. I would go out for walks and around the pond for fresh air each afternoon, down my favourite trail. On these walks, I could see the little toads sitting without a care, waiting for the next rain dance, oblivious of what was coming. Then it came; not the rain, but something else. Something insidious that threatened their existence on the lily pads. Soon, the lily pads ceased to surface, as did the toads. A disaster pressed them down to the bottom of the pond until the breathing stopped. The toads on the lily pads were gone. So was the serenade.

I wasn’t prepared for this; neither were the toads nor the rain, the pond, or the lily pads. However, as time went by, a change did occur. The green pond began to look different; it shrunk. Lily pads were replaced by something else. It eluded me, just as it eluded them. The lily pads and the toads disappeared altogether. The mossy surroundings of the pond didn’t look as clean as they used to be. First, it was just one or two plastic bottles, then the rubbish increased. Over months and years, this litter doubled, tripled and quadrupled. This impeded both my view through the picture window, as well as my walks. But this was the least of my problems; the litter posed a much bigger threat. Plastic bottles didn’t just hedge the edges of the pond, but slid down into the waters as well. The pond might as well be called something else, anything but green. This surface was now accosted by plastic bottles. The much-coveted pond on the brink of a disaster. The rain fell again, but without much romance. Rather, the pond saw how its bottled surface got shoved around in the rough rains. The sudden disappearance of the toads on the lily pads was ominous.

As I lay one summer’s day thinking of this tragedy unfolding before my eyes, I remembered a nursery rhyme, “Who Killed Cock Robin?” A question of a highly symbolic nature, this Cock Robin triggered many serious issues in my mind. Some of these pertained to the collapse of historical and political events. But to boot, the enigma of the Cock Robin invaded my thoughts in relation to these plastic bottles, too. The sparrow may have killed it, but what if this magical, symbiotic balance of a delicate ecosystem were to be destroyed one day? Often, this would mean a relationship between life of all kinds to be scissored. Man, natural flora and fauna on land, waters and the skies. Fundamentally a spiritual connection, which the toad enjoyed with the pond on the lily pads and with the rain. Even if one element were to be snapped one day, wouldn’t all hell break loose and chaos descend? That begged a formidable question: who to blame for all this, then? This would lead to the dismantling of all spiritual connections in nature and render us with a place of utter confusion akin to a poet’s twisted perception of a dark place where “[t]he stars are not wanted now: put out every one; pack up the moon and dismantle the sun; pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood; for nothing now can ever come to any good” (Auden).

God forbid that this were ever to happen, but then again, there was no stopping of such an onslaught either. That was the summer of the last great storm, our summer of discontent. Mangled mangoes fell in the fierce winds and people felt dispossessed and lost as the storm took everything they loved. A summer when a monsoon swept through, nipping buds, snapping bird nests perched on high branches of deep forests. A summer of discontent, ants running amok, drains clogged up in decrepit disorder. Heightened drunkenness and muggy nights’ infusions.

Among the flying debris, some which blocked the drains were used plastic bottles. They were swept by the winds along with crackling dry leaves. They plugged the plumbing system. However, the drains were not the only thing that suffered. There were the beaches, too. One particular beach at the Bay of Bengal was a casualty of this calamity. The beach, a silent witness to many dreams, lovers entwined on the sinking sand in waxed moonlight, of the mandala of human dramas, a beautiful beginning and perhaps an imperfect ending, the ocean cleans it all in its eternal ebb and flow. These mandalas done and redone until time had given up, played on the beach, a part of resurrection in the hours when all became sand indestructible, quintessentially minuscule. An atom of waves, the H2O.

As the ocean cleaned away the debris of plastic of many shapes and colours, it failed to predict what it could do to the underwater life. At the museum, a miniature kingdom stood. It took its rightful place as an age old artefact. It was a kingdom covered in plastic and disposable bottles of Coca-Cola. The king of the underwater, a mermaid king, wore a crown of dome decorated with balloonized plastic bottles. His queen sat next to him and also wore a similar crown. Their palace was within a plastic bubble, where a suffocated mermaid princess lay with her tail curled-up in the palace court. They didn’t breathe, neither the King nor the Queen, or even the ministers of this king’s court. Something happened, an accident perhaps, which took the last breath out of this kingdom. The ocean cleansed it all, off the beach; yes, but to the demise of this little kingdom.

The mermaid princess was playing in the palace gardens around the waving corals and the Bengal Cone when a storm rose. It swept her aside and knocked her into the deep seas. She recovered from the blow and the young, spirited princess resurfaced to view the dark, dangerous sea storm. Overwhelmed by its rugged beauty, she looked open-mouthed when she swallowed some debris. It was a dirty piece of plastic from a broken bottle that she had consumed. Immediately, she hiccuped and returned to the palace, but the princess could not breathe after a while. The king and the queen stood in awe as they witnessed the princess’s silent death in the court. She coughed and vomited and then lay inert. Her turquoise tail was still, like the lifeless studded stones edging it. She was given a water burial after that. Tears of pearls fell at her grave. Her parents believed, like the ancient Egyptians, that her soul would rise again; like the Orion constellation of 70 days, her soul would reappear in another part of the ocean. They whispered to her soul of a new day of resurrection, when the environment would come around a full circle of better days. For this was written in the holy waters of the temple of Oracle.

However, the toxins kept coming in. Too close for comfort, they slowly suffocated the entire mermaid kingdom. The king and the queen died, along with all their subjects. The fish began to swallow plastic and inhale this poisonous pollution. What an abominable mess. They continued to die, down to the last little soul. Such was the waste, devastating damage, which could not be repaired. The environment fell into complete disrepair. The ocean’s quietude was alarming. The waves roared no more, the underwater plants died because they stopped breathing; plastic bottlenecked them.

This story of the annihilation of the mermaid kingdom was recorded in history. It entailed all of its oceanic wonders and disasters. States dumped toxic wastes, more dangerous than ever, into the ocean’s gut. Every plastic bottle found their way into the waters, oblivious to an ocean full of life therein, the green turtles, deep sea lobsters, and oysters, jellyfish, got seriously entangled and were choked to death. Heaps of bottles fell over them like bullets, as though there was an Armageddon. An intergalactic war of plastic was upon the green planet. On the land, into the sea, everywhere; not even the islands, the paradise of Serendib, or the silent island in the Bay could escape from its deadly toxins. A hill of plastic bottles rose, as the waste accumulated on their sandy beaches.

Soon, there was a new world. A world made of plastic marvel. Men and women were clothed in plastic. Homes were made of plastic. Roof gardens lost all their lustre to be replaced increasingly by plastic bottles in the pots. In the summer of molten heat, toxic chemicals from the plastic leached into the soil and contaminated it. The organic planet as we know became completely walled out of orbit. The hanging gardens of vines, and scarlet bougainvillea once, were no more. What hung now was rows of synthetic plastic bottles. A necklace of the new inanimate hung still over the roof walls instead. They did not grow, nor did they produce. The clay pots, now made of bottled plastic, held a new kind of insipid, pale plant. They grew not to give pleasure, but to spite the world.

The sun still rose. Even though the soil and the water, all of the sun’s companions had a makeover from thousands of years of decomposed plastic pollutants. Plants that grew under these conditions, with the help of the sun, had that pale blue look about them. The sun struggled as the plants failed to photosynthesise. The lack of pure water and nutrition from the soil were pervasive. The lights struggled to keep up, as the natural chemicals went awry.

Whoever was living by then looked different like the roof garden. They did not look healthy, but emaciated. Breathing became difficult, and people carried oxygen cylinders on their backs. A new look evolved. However, what they ate concerned everyone, because plastic now ruled. It stuffed up the waterways so badly that irrigation of the soil was be possible. Rain fell less, and this led to deforestation. Rainforests and fireflies coughed up blood. The roots stopped to reach out. They became dry and could not be replenished. This ecological imbalance grew and gave rise to frequent floods, and more and more dead fish resurfaced in the water. Landslides were a common occurrence. The ocean was a garbage dump. People walked the streets of filthy waters gushing out from the drains; the pestilence of black fever advanced. Children, men and women died in large numbers; their immune systems had already been compromised.

Not only that, the magical days of the mermaids were gone; these prosaic times too were soon coming to an end. A sense of the end prevailed. People realised that they would have to live off garbage. But it was too late now to go back to the golden age, when the gleaners sat singing and laughing on the airy front yards, gleaning corn, threshing wheat, and walking on grapes to make red wines. People had never been so misled by greed and power. Yes, it was greed and power that blinded them, industrialists who traded off a cleaner environment for profit. Hunger, pestilence, and disease were at large. The mother earth had given up. The green planet had started to choke under the rubble of plastic. She cried out as she saw fit at the human folly; its insistence on destruction of the only place we could call home. Alas, when it had all come to pass, the greedy then realised that they could not eat money, they could not eat plastic bottles.

Very well, then, why did they use them in the first place? Because they were inexpensive and did not break. Even poor urchins were seen picking them up from the dump to sell at mere pittances for recycling. The bottles were pressed under heavy machines, ready to be reused. But they were far too many.

Of the plastic rubble, Of the narrow bottleneck, Of the choking, Of the breathing, this little boy of seven cried out in his sleep one night. Upon waking, his mother held him close. There was a problem. He said he couldn’t breathe anymore. At the rubbish dump, he was collecting plastic bottles from the heap by the beach. Then he found something shining inside one of the bottles. He put his finger through the neck to reach the shiny object in the bottom of the bottle. It was shining. He thought it was gold. He would sell it and buy food. He was hungry, this little boy. He slept at night and fought his nightmares. He saw a huge man made of plastic coming towards him. His face, his hands, his entire body were made of plastic. He was Mr. Plastic. He had a huge bottle for a body. He picked up the little boy and put him through the neck. The boy coughed and choked. He was sitting in a bubble, then, a bubble devoid of oxygen. That was just the little boy’s nightmare.

“Who killed Cock Robin?” I asked the Sparrow with my bow and arrow.

“Who destroyed the rainforests?” I asked Mr. Plastic with my bottleneck.

Impossible, this jam that was caused by too many plastic bottles. They were sent, rubbish, from all over the world. In a clumsy effort to resolve this problem, states dumped them unscrupulously off the coasts of Cambodia and Indonesia and many other countries, using them as dumping sites. This posed a huge political problem amongst such nations. The rubbish just kept getting bigger without any solution in view. Would the world be large enough to contain plastic bottles of such magnitude? Even the space and the moon would not be large enough. Flying debris had already crossed into space.

Disposal became a huge issue. No one could think of a good solution. Management was crude. Dumping it into the oceans of a neighbouring country? Or in some other remote corner of the world, which too were habitable. Environmentalists spoke for days on end. In various newspapers such as The Independent and The Guardian, articles were being written on how governments were trying to find solutions. Northern Star penned how Cambodia planned to send back rubbish to industrialised countries. Mars, or perhaps another uninhabitable galaxy could render help for this man-made calamity. This was getting out of hand. Something needed to be done, even though the magical world was gone.

No matter; all this took their rightful place in a purist’s world. A minimalist who stored images on her canvas. Here she was, painting pictures of plastic bottles. She painted them in all sizes and colours: red, green, and blue. The paintings looked stark, and surrealistic. They looked grim. She had toppling bottles rolling all over her canvas. Bigger bottles in red, lay on top of each other in a motley collection. Their narrow necks were shaped, curved like a 23 inch waistline of a model.

They were sensually appealing, which rendered visual, and tactile, olfactory and gustatory fancy and ringing onomatopoeia. The bottles came to life as though sparkling water could be heard in them to be tasted, touched, and drank. But the purist also sensed the waste. She drew black pith over the bottles like under a rotten orange rind, to give an impression of free floating rubbish on top. A mountain of rubbish piled up, edging as an extra layer on the bottles. An art critic would feel like washing all that rubbish off with a sudden splash of water. The purist knew her art only too well, and adhered strictly to the principles of painting of this sullied rubbish in a solid heap.

All this was a part and parcel of nature. These man-made calamities were not difficult to remove. Humans are an extension of nature who knew that a futuristic world of decrepitude awaited if an alternative wasn’t invented fast. Research was probably underway even as we spoke. The sooner the better, sure as hell, because if we didn’t want our planet to sink beneath the curvy waves of no return, children would grow up in bottlenecks with no toads on lily pads to serenade the rains. The dimpling of the pond at its touch of romance would disappear for good. If this planet choked, then there better be a plan B because there is no planet B.