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I have a ‘No-Paper Zone’ in my home, and it is the space right next to my kitchen sink where normally the dishes that need washing go. Why would anyone go to the trouble of making it a no-paper zone, you wonder. And rightly so. You and I and everyone else know – or SHOULD know – that is NOT where the paper and plastic bags go after their contents have been transferred to containers. But there is one person I know who hasn’t figured this simple fact for himself. Can you guess who it is? Hint: It is not Luci.

Yup, now you have got it. It is none other than the L&M. I don’t know where he picked up this habit. But he thinks next-to-the-sink is the right place for used paper bags, boxes and sundry paper. Never mind there is a wastepaper basket in the area right beneath the sink, as there is in literally every room in the house. You see one cannot be too careful when it comes to these things. Whenever the urge to throw paper comes upon a person they should have one close by, is my policy. Not everyone is like me, willing to walk miles (to the next room) if one were not available in that particular room.

It is not as if the L&M has any problem bending. You should see him in the garden, pulling out weeds, hacking here a plant into shape, chopping a branch there, sweeping up the dry leaves and burning them. In addition, washing the dishes comes easy-peasy to him. Sweeping and/or mopping the floor? At your service Ma’am, is his style. He does it all with such elan, while I on the otherhand, groan and moan through my work. Oh my back, my poor, poor back, I wail. I gotta sit down for a while before I can start on the next job at hand. Mind you, I am only talking of cutting vegetables for lunch or dinner. But when it comes to bending down to put waste paper where it belongs, he balks.

At this point some wise ass is sure to come along and patronizingly tell me that I ‘should tell him nicely where to put the paper’ No kidding! Yes, there ARE people of the sort infesting this planet Earth. They want you to treat your adult spouse as you would a toddler. You must tell him, he doesn’t know you know! What’s worse is the other one: Such an insignificant thing. Just pick up the paper yourself and put it in the basket yourself.

Excuse me. I am not your typical Bollywood kind of woman (or her real-life counterpart), who simpers at a grown man, shakes her head indulgently at his repeated offences, and says ‘Tum nahi sutroge” (You will never change) in a saccharine sweet voice that makes you want to gag. I should know. Thirty odd years back, on the advice of family, friends, strangers, movies, books and society at large, I tried it on for size and disgusted at myself, promptly threw it out as unfit for women with self-respect.

I must admit though that down the years I have indeed tried various methods to get the L&M to mend his ways. Starting with sweetly worded suggestions, to sulking big time, to giving tersely worded ultimatums, I have tried them all to no avail. Indeed they worked in the short run. A few days, here, a few weeks there. But the respite was short-lived, and as the Malayalam saying goes, Shankaran would again be on the coconut tree. Apparently in some village in Kerala in some long, long ago time, someone named Shankaran refused to come down from atop the coconut tree. Don’t ask me why he spent time there, he probably loved the view. The villagers tried hard to convince him to come down, and succeeded too, only to have him shinny back up as soon as he got the chance. Just like the unknown Shankaran, the L&M too got back to his habit sooner than later.

I was almost at my wit’s end when I hit upon another idea. Taking a piece of paper, I wrote on it, ‘No-Paper Zone’ and stuck it on the wall just above where the L&M was wont to deposit the unwanted paper bags and stuff. It took long for even that to work (Ahh! The irony of finding waste paper beneath the ‘No-paper zone’ label stuck on the wall!), but eventually it did. It even raised a giggle or two, not to mention eyebrows, when the sons, and visitors too, asked for whom it was meant. Who do you think? I asked them in reply. There are only three of us here and one has floppy ears, four legs and a tail.

Some months back I looked at the paper with the scrawled ‘No-paper zone’ on it now curling at the edges, and smiled to myself. There hadn’t been any paper dumped beneath it in a long, long time. May be it was time to remove the by now grimy piece of paper from the wall? I tore it off with a flourish and bending down promptly put it where it belonged, in the wastepaper basket below. Sigh. Little did I know it was a mistake. A blunder, if you will. My peace of mind has gone for a six in the last few weeks, for we are back to square one. It is now time to make another label, a bigger, better one, with ‘No-Paper Zone!’ written in HUGE fonts. In bold.

© Shail Mohan 2020