Urban legend: Bin there, done that – Odette, the waste warrior

A piece of advice from a grandmother to pick up scraps of paper shaped the course of Odette Katrak’s life. Now flouters who burn garbage around lakes must escape Odette’s eagle eye or face her wrath even as her initiative, Beautiful Bengaluru, spreads awareness on recycling. The Waste Warrior,  as she is popularly known, tells Aksheev Thakur about the life of a citizen activist and the need for punitive punishment for those who flout administrative laws.

She tells you she never saw herself as a civic activist, but clearly it was in her blood, as today Mrs Odette Katrak has her finger in different pies, garbage, lake fires and even traffic. In a culmination of sorts of her years of work, December 2016 saw her co-found  Beautiful Bengaluru with Aparna Ponnappa to” reclaim the glory of old Bengaluru.” Fanning her enthusiasm are a compilation of pictures of the city as it was in the early sixties and seventies.

If she is today known as a “waste warrior” among the people of her locality, she says she owes it all to her grandmother,  a champion of  women’s causes in the early sixties. 

“My grandmother always used to sing, bits of paper lying on the ground makes the place dirty, pick them up. These lines stayed with me and later became a passion,” goes on Odette.

A gold medalist from XLRI Jamshedpur, she spent over  20 years in the corporate industry as a behavioural trainer, before activism took over.  

“In 2003, there was a huge pothole on 100 feet road which used to bother me since it could have taken anyone’s life. After passing by it for a fortnight, I wrote an article for a newspaper about it and saw the pothole  filled,” she recalls. That fired her activist spirit and she has not looked back since.

Today  Beautiful Bengaluru holds a contest, ‘Treasures from the Trash’ every year, to spread awareness about recycling of waste and its volunteers speak to over seven lakh people at the annual Lalbagh flower show about the city’s environmental concerns. The state government’s ban on the use of plastic in 2016 appears to have acted as a catalyst in framing its agenda. 

But  she finds the lackadaisical approach of the civic agencies and the government to eco concerns discouraging. 

 “My question is when we note down the vehicle number of trucks and autos unloading garbage in the vicinity of a lake, why is no action taken? At the end of the day the government must take punitive action or else our efforts will go in vain,” she underlines. 

The following year the travails of Bellandur lake caught her attention after a major fire broke out around it in February of 2017. 

“Since I stay close to the lake, I saw piles of garbage being burnt near it and even saw how irregular BBMP pickups were. I followed this up so much that today people in my area call me a waste warrior,” Odette says proudly.  

To help her with her regular follow-ups with civic agencies and  waste pickers she learnt  Kannada and Bengali, and working with ragpickers for a couple of years, she became acquainted with the problems that civic agencies are grappling with.

Odette now believes ordinary Bengalureans need to pitch in to clean the city as its waste management machinery is understaffed and cannot handle it all.

Besides garbage,  traffic has been her concern as well. Having grown accustomed to  traffic discipline on the roads during her two year stay in the United Kingdom, she found it hard to take the unruliness on the country’s roads and so while in Gurugram for a while, Odette worked with traffic cops and compiled a set of traffic guidelines spanning 54 pages, which she boasts are still on the Gurugram Traffic Police website.  “I can hardly see people following traffic signals in Bengaluru,” she regrets.

“If  the government is getting inputs from  activists free of cost, why is it not putting them to good use?” she sums up gloomily.

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Note from Kannada.Club :

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